Saturday, 16 May 2015

What's in a Name?

I've seen many books explaining the meanings of European names, but until recently I hadn't seen one discussing Zambian names. Digging through various papers I discovered I had a slim book with no attribution apart from 'For M with thanks', and apparently signed 'Batyo'. It would seem to have been produced for Zambian sale (in churches?), though it also discusses European names.

I guess it must be 40 years old, but it's hard to say. It's quite cheaply produced, and 20 pages long, with a nice cover; more of a pamphlet than a book really:

I confess to ignorance about Zambian names, so this was interesting to me. The author suggests that last names are only coming into use in Zambia at the time of writing, because so much more is being written down. 

A man has the name Nchimunya (same) because the one born before him was also a boy. Now that this man is married he takes Nchimunya as his family name and his children will also be called Nchimunya.

Other names relate to circumstances at the time of birth:

Milimo (work) - a child born at harvesting time
Mainza (rains) 
Imasiku (night) 
Mabvuto (troublesome birth)

Another pattern common in many cultures, and also present in Zambia, is to use the name of a deceased or living ancestor. Perhaps this was sometimes done to invoke the protection of the ancestor (if deceased).

There are also many clan names (as the author calls them). It gives solidarity within the clan and is exogamus, i.e. marriage within the clan is forbidden.

Examples of clan names are:

Bemba  Bowa, Bwali,  Mbulo, Mfula, Ng'andu, Ng'oma, Nsofu,
Lozi  Inambwae, Neta, Namuchoko, Nasiba, Nalikando, Naluya, Ndandula
Tonga  Moono, , Mudenda, Muleya, Muzyamba, Mweetwa, Muntanga
Tumbuka  Kaluba, Kumwenda, Njovu, Nyirenda, Nyirongo, Phiri, Zimba

Recognising that naming these days is much more open to borrowing from other cultures, the author also lists a number of non-Zambian names. One worth a mention is Lwanga, after Charles Lwanga (died 1886).

One of the 22 African martyrs of Uganda. Lwanga was in charge of the royal pages and baptised four of them, including Kizito, aged 13, whom he had saved from the evil intentions of Chief Mwanga.  Mukasa, Kizito, Mulumba, Kagwa, Mawaggali were some of the others who died for their faith. Mukasa was beheaded and the others were wrapped in reed mats and burned to death at Namugongo. (Feast day 3rd June.)

And here are some common names in Zambia from different provinces:


Ilishebo - born at a time of hunger
Imasiku - born at night 
Kachana - small but precious
Lubasi - likes relatives, family
Mangolwa - born in the morning 
Masiye - left behind, an orphan
Mubiana - hold something, drop something ... transient
Mundia - he has come, he will depart
Sibeso - a plaything, born during festival time
Sililo - born at the time of a funeral


Chidano - hatred, born at a time of quarreling
Chiluba - a flower, a sign of happiness
Mabvuto - trouble at the time of birth
Mavunika - difficulty at birth
Masuzyo - at a time of trouble
Misozi - tears, because previous children have died
Panji - doubting because of certain problems that may occur 
Pereka - a gift
Tionenji - what shall we see, as a result of problems with the family
Wezi - he has come as a gift


Beenzu - born when there are visitors in the village
Buumba - a time of mourning
Busiku - born at night
Chilala - if the birth is overdue 
Mazuba - born in the evening
Mucala - the mother dies after two weeks
Munzya - a newly born child goes with the mother to another father
Mutinta - a child of a different sex to the previous three
Nchimunya - the same sex as the previous one
Nzala - a time of famine


Bupe - a gift
Chibeka - the shining one
Chola - one who follows twins
Chongo - the mother made a lot of noise while pregnant
Kasonde - part of the family (universe)
Katwishi - if previous children had been sickly or perhaps died, what will happen to this one?
Mpundu - a twin
Muchemwa - the child was longed for, so to be looked after
Ntandimbanene - if the pregnancy was a secret
Waikunda - if the parent was selfish and kep to her/himself

Do you know any others?

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