Home » Literacy » The Miserable Boy Called Panichimendi [column]

When I was in Form One, there was a chap in my class whose name was Panichimendi. He was a sad-looking fellow and I attributed that to his name. Panichimendi is the Shona way of pronouncing the English word punishment.

To me, it was a double tragedy that he got such a name, and then had the births registry office capture the spelling in a very punishing way.

When others called out his name in full, it sounded like he was falling over some sharp jagged rocks of a cliff.

Names are special and I believe we must be able to explain them, but sometimes the way our names are spelt makes a very painful and sad story.

Panichimendi is unlike the common Malawian name Saizi, which is a celebration or admiration mixed with wonder.

Saizi is a Yao pronunciation and spelling of the English word size.

A friend explained that the name Saizi is common among the Yao people who are known for being industrious and who form the larger part of those who migrated (and still migrate) to the rest of southern Africa for economic reasons.

They are known for their love of fine things, ostensibly as a result of their exposure to other cultures and people.

So, a bicycle is not just a bicycle but something heavily decorated and enhanced in a way that tells of the great tastes its owner has.

Therefore, Saizi could have originally been given after people involved in industries requiring lots of measurements, such as tailoring or building, which the Yaos are known for.

Another common name from this area after Saizi is Wotchi — taken from watch, as in wristwatch.

In his novel Nzvengamutsvairo, the late Bernard Chidzero captures a scene where a group of young men get into a conflict over a name and how the name is supposed to be pronounced.

The scene features the learned and snobbish Samuel Chirimuta, who has visited the village having spent some time away in the city.

He meets his old village friends who call him Samere.

This upsets Samuel so much that he scolds his friends and says in English, “Don’t call me Samere, my name is Samuel, the son of Chirimuta the vegetable grower.” So does it really matter if your name is pronounced wrongly? Is that something to cause offence? Are names not just labels that we are identified with and that we respond to? Well, Bernard Chidzero’s Samuel represents a good number of people who make a fuss over the pronunciation and spelling of their names.

My name is Ignatius and I do not like it when people write my name or pronounce my name as Ignatious, Ignitius, Iginashios or Ginatsiyo.

I don’t like it when people spell my name any other way, which is not Ignatius.

I have become attached to the Ignatius spelling of my name, and any other way of spelling it, which also influences the pronunciation, causes me a lot of discomfort because I get a feeling that it has nothing to do with me.

It is not me. Generally speaking, I think we have a problem in Zimbabwe when it comes to giving our children names, especially English names.

I don’t think most of us go that far as to think of how the name they are giving to their child is pronounced and supposed to be written.

This is where the Registrar-General’s Office plays a part in hurling atrocious spellings of foreign names.

For example, I know the name Philemon, and I have seen it written as Feelmon, Philmon, Filmon, Filimon, Philemon, and Freemon. I can bet that there are other unbelievable spellings of this name out there.

When I went to my rural home for Christmas, I was introduced to one boy from our neighbouring village. This was after I had heard people calling him Agri, and I got curious about the meaning of such a strange name. I wondered whether his full name was Agrippa, Agriculture or Ugly because Zimbabwean names in English are probably some of the strangest in the world especially when we try to use the same naming system we employ in Shona names. Back to the boy named Agri. I later learnt that Agri was a short form for Agreement. Interesting enough, the young man writes his name as Agrimendi because that is how the births registry office captured it.

I don’t know whether the registering officer had decided that by writing the name as Agreement, he or she would distort the way the name Agrimendi was pronounced with the rolling r.

Upon further inquiry, I heard that the Apostolic Church that his parents attend influenced that boy’s name.

Even though the pronunciation and meaning of both words agreement and agrimendi are almost similar, it is the pronunciation that they insisted made the boy’s name special. This incident reminded me of an acquaintance whose name we used to shorten as Kirashi. His full name was Crashwell. It is a pity that the chap is now late otherwise I would have wanted to know the story behind his name. Yet, somehow I think that the intended name was Creswell, which is a known English and American surname.

A lot of Africans who worked with white people either gave their children names of their white bosses or white people that they admired.

The challenge often came when they wanted to register the names and the registering officers who had never heard such strange names came up with hilarious spellings. Examples of such names are: Shaun or Sean, which is an Irish form of John. Why not just call the child John instead of having it written and pronounced as Shon, Shone, Shoni or Shona? Another name, which is both a boy’s and a girl’s name is Lindsay but it has been spelt as Linsey, Lyndsey, Lynsay, and Lynsey.

Such names always sounded odd in a community of black people and often people would end up calling a person called Lindsay as Linda.

At one time, I thought I was one of the few people who are victims of the mistakes that are made by the birth and death registry clerks at the Registrar General’s office.

My surname Mabasa should have been Mawasa, but because there was a serious challenge in capturing the correct spelling and writing of letters like vin words like Chivi which ended up being written as Chibi, my surname also became a victim.

So, the wawhich was supposed to form Mawasa was changed into a vato become Mavasa, and when it was eventually captured on IDs and birth certificates, it was changed again to become Mabasa. And as a result, we have had to accept and live with the wrong pronunciation, wrong spelling and of course meaning.

Yet, while my registrar general given surname has become comfortable, I know of cases where people feel embarrassed by such mistakes.

I know of one family whose surname is Maisva, but instead of writing Maisva, the registry clerks captured the name as Maiswa — which is obscene.

The original meaning, context and history becomes lost because of the registry mistake.

The problem is that Africans had a complex naming system.

The names were spoken, but had not been written down. People just knew each other as Chirimamombe son of Mukurazhizha of the Soko Mukanya totem.

Then after that they would trace the lineage using names of dead grandfathers up to a point when their memories could remember.

So, when the Africans went to register for IDs or births, the clerks wrote down what they were hearing, using their own spellings.

Eventually, it was the teachers and missionaries that tried to correctly capture the names.

Yet, where it proved difficult to capture long and complex Shona names, the teachers and missionaries would give Africans new English names.

But this only worked with first names, and not with surnames.

Fortunately, we seem to be having fewer and fewer cases where we hear children with negative names like Panichimendi, Hardlife, Godknows, Matinyanya or Musafare.

These days, the young parents seem to be giving their children very “cool” names, which are supposed to sound sophisticated.

Still, the problem with such names is that because they are coming from a different language and culture — we still mutilate them in one way or another.

Source : The Herald