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Names will never hurt me

semi-overcast 27 °C

‘Meet my best friend’ called our friendly night watchman, as another jovial guy walked past the house… After the usual greetings, I asked the watchman what his friend’s name was, ‘Oh,’ he replied, ‘I don’t know.’

It made us laugh that he didn’t know his best friend’s name, but we’ve seen this happen a few times here in Arua.

For instance, other local friends live together in a shared homestead: three brothers, their wives, children, extra orphans and various animals, all doing life together. So it surprised us when he didn’t know the name of the sister-in- law who they share a home with. He said he just calls her ‘Mama Lilian’ after the firstborn child.

We have had the privilege of naming a few of our friends’ children recently. Two of the new babies in Arua are called ‘Zoë’ meaning ‘Life’ after Emma’s youngest sister. Another friend took Emma’s suggestion of ‘Aaron’ for his son. He likely isn’t aware of the Scottish island that our Arran is named after.
Big Zoe celebrating her 1st birthday!

Big Zoe celebrating her 1st birthday!

Baby Zoe with Mum and big sister

Baby Zoe with Mum and big sister


In our culture, there is much thought, discussion and even prayer when choosing a name for the unborn child. Names are chosen because of its meaning, or because of a significant person or sometimes because of the attractive way it sounds. Most of the time, the baby name is chosen beforehand. Amongst many African households, a baby is traditionally not named until a baby shows he/she is surviving. The infant mortality, although falling, is still high and so it is not practical or emotionally convenient to name a baby from the outset.

Lugbara names have traditionally been negative. Children will be named according to the circumstances they were born into or how the mother is feeling. During wartime, children may be named ‘Adiga’ meaning ‘war’. If a mother has been having struggles, a child can be named Driciru, a girl’s name meaning ‘suffering’. A lady I worked with had a mother who had many babies that didn’t survive infancy. For this reason, she was called ‘Drajoru’, meaning ‘Death in the place’. Drateru and Dravoru (‘Dra’ meaning ‘death’) are other names related to death. Another lady is called ‘Lekuru’ which means ‘dislike’ because her dad didn’t want to have another girl and actually wanted her thrown away. She was one of 9 girls in the family (out of 12). Another lady is called ‘Useless’ in Lugbara because her dad didn’t want another girl.

The sad name list goes on…

The name ‘Candia’ is translated ‘Misery’, and is a surprisingly common name for girls and boys. A woman whose husband ran away after giving birth called her son ‘Foolish’. A colleague I work with at Lifeskills told me her story of being abandoned by her father when she was a baby. Just before giving birth, her mother was homeless. Her mother ended up giving birth amongst the cassava plants in a field. Her mother called her ‘wanderer’.

Although there are still plenty of unfortunately- named people running about, thankfully, there has been some change in the way children are named as the hopeful message of the Bible takes root and Biblical names like Love (Leta) or Joy (Ayiko) are being given. The hope of the Bible message is the reason I appreciate it so much. It is the reason we work here in West Nile. Whether it is in the family, in farming or in doing commerce, the Biblical message is in the business of changing lives and making a difference for people, including how someone is named. To me, Christianity is not a religion to help people pretend to be pious and act holy, it is something which can really make positive change. That should be good news for new babies being born in West Nile…

Posted by africraigs 00:59 Archived in Uganda

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