Blog // 10.27.2010

Name? Kaiz- I mean, Oliver.

Article by Abena A-T

I was just reading an article that Aba put a link to on Facebook about Oliver Tambo, a South African anti-apartheid activist. Suddenly, I came across a line that made me stop. I had to stop reading and come blog to get my thoughts out and see what you think. The article said that Mr. Tambo, who was originally named Kaizana by his father, changed his name to Oliver when he went to school and was required to have an English name. Now. We all know that many of the European colonizers devalued African culture and taught Africans that they were more respectable, more “civilized” if they changed many aspects of their culture including their names. But is this history or is it still going on today?

Today, in my experience, I have people (including many people of European descent) tell me that my name Abena is so pretty but when I talk to Ghanaians they almost always ask, “what’s your Christian name? (without even knowing if I’m a Christian or not- which I am) or what’s your English name? I’m thinking, with all due respect Sir/Mam, I just told you what my name is meaning this is the name by which I am to be referred. Why are you now asking for my English/Christian name as if the one I gave you is unsatisfactory or as if it is obvious, imperative, mandatory that I have an English or “Christian” name? I don’t know about you ladies (and gents) but as you can see this is annoying to me, it doesn’t make me happy.  Its one thing for colonialists to think this way but when it comes from us, its… its….
Well, why don’t you tell me what it is?

Leave your comments below. Itching to know your thoughts!

2 Responses to “Name? Kaiz- I mean, Oliver.”

  1. Shema says:


    I know I am guilty of a crime like this.
    My first name is quite long and since coming to Canada, when I introduce myself to people, I give them an abbreviated version of my name. In high school, my teachers, specifically those not native to my country always had problems pronouncing my name, which annoyed me, so I decided to avoid this problem. I shortened my name. Often when I gave my full name, people also commented “its so pretty” but I was just tired of correcting them.
    Today I am happy with my shorter name but for those persons who I meet now and foster a friendship with, I only give them my full name, that is if by chance it comes up or they discover it, and then I give them the choice of both names.

  2. Abena A-T says:

    Shema, I know sometimes it’s just easier to give an abbreviated version of our names to people who just can’t seem to pronouce it. I think it’s fine if that name abbreviation or change is your choice, and that people accept what your’e offering them. If your’e cool with it, then it’s cool. Thanks for sharing!

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