Attached is a list of names of children in Lesotho, a small country in southern Africa. If you are writing to a pen-pal in Lesotho, choose a Sesotho name (Sesotho is the language of Lesotho), and tell why you chose it. Use this name when you write to your pen-pal in Lesotho.
The right to have a name. Names are one of the first things a child receives. The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of a Child says it is the right of every child to receive a name.
In different cultures, names have different meanings. A name might tell something about your history, religion, language, or culture.
In Lesotho, names are given to a child, signifying something about the day she was born (Pulane – rain, a girl’s name) or an attribute the parents want the child to have (Bohlale, intelligent – a boy’s name).
To keep away bad luck or frighten away evil spirits, parents might even give the child a name like Sera (enemy) or Ntja (dog).
Names in Nigeria Names in Nigeria, another country in Africa, also have similar meanings to those in Lesotho, except that a child might receive many names, one from each parent, and one from each set of grandparents, maybe even one from a special aunt or uncle. The adults choose the name to give the children direction in life. A Nigerian child might have 8 names in all, and as she grows up, she keeps the ones she likes best.
Dr. Johnson is a doctor from Nigeria, whose full name is Olalekan Adebayo Olumide Akaande Johnson Fatokun. There is meaning and a story to each name. Olalekan means joy for an added one; as he was the second boy. Adebayo refers to a celebration of one born after Nigeria’s Civil War. Olumide translates to “my Lord has come”, meaning that he should be a child who leads the family, that looks for solutions to his family’s problems). Akande refers to his village of origin, in western Nigeria, so just by hearing his name, another Nigerian person will know where he is from. Johnson is his Christian name, and his father’s name was John. Fatokun was his grandfather’s name. His grandfather was a sangoma, or medicine man, and many people were not surprised when he followed his grandfather’s path, and himself became a doctor. Among his cousins, he has the nickname, “Doki”, for “Doctor.
Babies in Nigeria’s Yoruba culture have a naming ceremony 7 days after they are born, with food, speeches, and the baby as the center of attention.
Names with religious significance In the Muslim religion, one of the five tenants of belief is that during one’s lifetime, every Muslim person must try to journey to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of the Prophet Mohammed. This journey is called a “hajj.” A person who has journeyed to Mecca thus adds the word “Hajj” at the beginning of his name. It is a great honor, similar to calling a person “Doctor.”
In Sweden in northern Europe (and many other countries), every child has not only a birthday, but also a “name day” (namsdag). Every one of the 365 days of the calendar is assigned a name, in old days the name of saints. Boys named Krister celebrate their name days on November 13 and girls named Marit on May 6. On their name day, the child’s mother might bake him a cake or a meal of his favorite foods. People at school will know it’s his name day.
Old and New Names Most countries have large books of names, to help parents choose a name for their child. In some countries like Japan, parents must pick a name from the book of names. In that way, an important part of the culture is preserved.
In African-American communities, on the other hand, parents have been creating entirely new names, from sounds they like. “Latesha” and “Shaquilla” are names that may once have been based on ancient names from African cultures, but which have a lovely sound to the parents.
Names and Marriage
In some cultures women, when they are married, drop their own family and adopt the surname name of their husband. Their girlhood surname is called their “maiden name.” In other cultures, called matrilineal cultures, the opposite happens.
The woman might keep her original surname as a new middle name. For example,
Marilee Sushoreba , when she marries Mac Robertson, may become Marilee Sushoreba Robertson.
In Lesotho, when a woman has her first baby, she often changes her name to the name of the baby, adding “’Ma” (meaning mother of) before the name. A mother of a baby named Khotso (peace) will become ‘Makhotso (or Mother of Khotso). Some of her friends will call her by her old name, and others will call her by her new name. It can be very confusing!
What do you know about your name? Why did your parents give you this name? Who else in your family has that same name? What meaning does the name have? Is there a girl (or boy) version of the same name?
Ask your mother or guardian to tell you about the day you were born, or the day you were adopted or the day you came to live with your present family. Look at the year of your birth. What was happening in the world during that year (how can you find this out?)
2. Use art and design to print your name in an original way. Paste the history of the name beneath the design.
Natasha means …..
When I was born ….
Make a list of all the (first) names and surnames (last names) of students in your class. Write the ethnic or cultural group the name has, if known.
Surnames (also called family name or last name) often tend to be place names in their original language, like “round mountain” (Murayama = Japanese; Rundfjell = Norwegian; Hill = English). Can you think of a story about how the person may have gotten this surname in ancient times? What do you know about your surname?
What were the maiden names of some of the women in your family?
Your children: What are names you might give your children when you are older? Tell why you chose each name.
Questions: What are other things you would like to learn about names?
Related topics: Birth stones
Birth customs in different cultures
United Nations Declaration of the Rights of a Child
Websites about names: Baby names from different countries in the world. www.babyzone.com
Articles about how babies in many different countries get their names. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_name
(Feedback and suggestions welcome! Also, feel free to modify and use activity in any way for your own students. E-mail: email@example.com Last updated Feb 2009)