From whatever distance, Zimbabwe’s rural socio-cultural landscape looks an untainted blissful paradise.
It is only when one gets a close-up view that one encounters a people bludgeoned with poverty, hunger and disease.
Yet amidst this misery exacerbated by decades of political repression, there is a tessellation of colourful personal first names that pervades millions of homes.
Once you study carefully their provenance, you will quickly appreciate that some Zimbabwean names are a result of euphoric ecstasy that overwhelms parents at the very first sight of their infants.
Unfortunately for the innocent child — though integral to this post-natal nomenclature drama — he or she is an actor with no say in lines that “tell a story” on his or her future personality.
Some social scientists have correctly argued that colonialism has influenced how we Zimbabwean parents name our children.
Others insist the unique concoction of traditional and Christian values creates an ideal battleground for conflicting contexts in meanings of first names.
Nonetheless, in seeking the ideal name for their child, most “new” parents tend to be caught in-between own brittle personal egos and the unrealistic demands of excited grandparents.
Just hearing the sound of a Zimbabwean name informs you on what the mood was in the delivery room.
Unless the family gynaecologist had been accurate in “prophesying” the sex of the child, more often than not it is an exhausted post-natal mother who resigns to the pediatric whims of the domineering father in proffering a name.
I know a “prayerful father” who named his first born Wijip — an acronym of “with Jesus it’s possible”!
It is also not unusual to encounter “unhappy” names like Hatred, Trouble and Venom or those derived from family experiences like Memory, Hardwork or Revenge!
Some lucky infants are “laboured” with pleasant names — Blessings, Patience, Grace, and Lovejoy.
And yet spontaneous parental excitement may end up agony for the future of the child.
Ignorance on the gender relevance of a name can be an albatross of misery and despair, especially on impressionable teenagers.
Some English names like Peter, John and James are distinctly male, but when parents make forays into “emotional” territory like Patience, Choice and . . . umm
. . . Rejoice, they run into serious gender clutter!
We are, nonetheless grateful that our parents meant well and that these “cross names” ended up on the happy side. In any case, “what’s in a name?” asks Juliet Capulet in William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Not all name situations have sweet intrigue, charm and happy endings.
At one time a driver was reluctant to transfer me from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to a Nairobi hotel because he expected a feminine mwanamke to emerge from the arrivals.
As if that clumsy patch was not bad enough, I temporarily rejoiced at having been erroneously booked to share a room with “another” lady from South Africa.
Luckily for the mwanamke wa Afrika ya Kusini, my masculine mwanaume luggage never made it beyond the reception!
While I agonise on how best to deal with confusion about my name, African politicians endowed with a low self-esteem labour their citizens with cumbersome titles.
Call me anything but “Conqueror of the British Empire” or “Representative of the Almighty”!
One unstable African “constitutional democracy” with a highly partisan State-controlled print and electronic media systematically refers to “Head of State and Government, First Secretary, Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces, President blah blah” on every other occasion.
My name may be a bit of a gender twister, but like yours, it is still cool!