What’s in a Name?
Before my daughter was born I entertained giving her the name Nkosazana. It’s not one of those made up names that a few African American mother’s give to their children but a South African name from the Xhosa tribe that means princess. I really loved the name and was a step away from giving it to her when I went another way. My fear wasn’t because I didn’t think she wouldn’t be able to spell it or pronounce it but that other people would have problems saying it. Or would gleefully slaughter it and, in doing so, would advertently or inadvertently bring down my daughter’s self esteem. The name would be ethnic which would be sure to receive askance looks from both whites and blacks. Whites would disdain it because it isn’t a vanilla name like Brittney or Rebecca. Blacks would dislike it because it is so ethnic –to make up a name is one thing, that’s American, but to reach back into my cultural heritage and saddle my daughter with what some might thinks is unpronounceable name is something else.
An actress or actor giving their child an odd name should be old hat right now. In Hollywood kids have names like Pilot Inspektor and Apple. So why the big kerfuffle that Lilakoi Moon (aka Lisa Bonet) and Jason Momoa named their newborn son Nakoa-Wolf Manakauapo Namakaeha? Yeah, it’s a bit Tikki Tikki Tembo-No Sa Rembo Chari Bari Ruchi Pip Peri Pembo-esquebut I am sure when the call or talk to the child they won’t be using his whole name. They will probably call him Nakoa or Wolfie or P0-Po or Pookieor some other diminutive that they find endearing for him.
Long names are typical in Hawaiian culture. From the book “The Melting Pot Book of Baby Names” (1990 ed) the author Connie Ellefson writes, “Hawaiian names often include several words joined together to form a name, which may then be shortened to nicknames. An experience significant to the parents might be described fully in the long name, which would then be shortened.”
Jason grew up in Norwalk, Iowa but his cultural heritage is Hawaiian. His mother wrote on his fansite about how her grandson got his name.
He was born on the stormest, rainy night.
so Nakoa(warrior)…Mana(strength/spirit) Kaua(rain) po(dark)…
The name was always going to be Nakoa-Wolf, but Jason did the research on first middle name, 2nd middle name as you know is Jason’s.
Still it’s going to take a lot for people to get over the length and the oddity of the child’s name (which, for the record is pronounced Na-Ko-Ah Wolf Mana-Ka-Ooh-Ah-Po Namma-Kay-Ah-Ha Mo-Moa). For years, many immigrants have come to this country and anglicized their names either by themselves or by a census taker who was unsure of how to spell the unsual names. For the first time in history, we will have a president with a non European name. While growing up Obama went by the nickname Barry but once in college he decided to drop it and use his given name Barack. A spring 2008 Newsweek article talks about the evolution of Barry to Barack.
Old friends contacted by NEWSWEEK who were present during the time he changed his name recall or intuit a mix of reasons—both personal and social. By Obama’s own account, he was, like most kids at that stage of life, a bit of a poseur—trying to be cool. So that could have played a part. He was also trying to reinvent himself. “It was when I made a conscious decision: I want to grow up,” says Obama.
As for me although I didn’t name my daughter Nkosazana I still decided to give her a name that would reflect a heritage I wanted to pass on to her. I chose an Arabic/West African first and middle name that together means “beautiful faith”. Growing up she used her given named interchangeably with her nickname but now that she is off in college she prefers to use her given name only. She is proud of her name although, unlike me, she is less likely to correct people when they mispronounce it. She is more forgiving of those who mistake a clear m sound for an n or see a v in place of an l.
We both have had almost 20 years to get used to people’s problems with ethnic names. The first one was my great aunt who has grandchildren with name my cousin made up but my great Aunt could easily say. When I told her my daughter’s name she just gave me a look that said that name is so hard I won’t even attempt to say it.
“That name sho nuff is African, ain’t it?” my Aunt said, pursing her lips and a sad look in her eyes saying I had left the plantation.
And I had. “Yeah Aunt Anna,” I answered her back without a note of haughtiness or disrespect in my voice. “It shole is.”