Friday, May 28, 2010

Customs, Courtesy, and Interesting Names

The chief and elders from one of the Zambian tribes were on the MEF campus for a few days recently, holding a court session. We were given instructions in how to greet the chief respectfully if we should encounter him. Women were to kneel before him, clap our hands twice, and say good day in either his dialect or our native language if we didn't know his. Men did the same, but only bending one knee. I saw the guests in their long traditional robes at a distance one morning, but never had the opportunity to try the greeting ceremony.

Zambians have some everyday customs related to greetings that are interesting. Young women and girls often curtsy when greeting or serving an older person or someone in a high position. Men use a three-part handshake with friends and acquaintances, sometimes including women. It involves extending the hand horizontally as if to shake hands, touching, then moving the had vertically and locking thumbs, then back to the shake. Hard to describe, but not too hard to learn.

Equally interesting are Zambian names. Most people seem to have both an English name and an African name. For the English names, Biblical characters are quite popular. Three brothers who come to my place regularly for PB&J sandwiches are Aaron, Moses, and Gideon, and their cousin is Lazarus. There are many men named Shadrack and Mishack, but I have yet to meet an Abednigo. Ezekiel, Leviticus, Enock and Esau are other men's Biblical names.

Women are more likely to be named for qualities or characteristics: Beauty, Blessing, Bright, Charity, Faith, Fanciful, Gift, Hope, Innocent, Magnificent, Memory, Offering, Pardon, Patience, Precious, Princess, Prudence, Respect, Shalom, Style, Wisdom.

Sometimes you wonder what the family was thinking when they named the child (truly!) Wedlock, or Unwanted, or Orphan. There are quite a few people named Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, but I haven't encountered any other days of the week. Men have the surnames of U. S. presidents as their first names--Kennedy, Roosevelt, Nixon. There are men named Shakespeare and Dickens and Amadeus. More than a few have first names like Finnegan, Rodgers, Macdonald, Wellington, Blackwell, and Davison.

Then, there are the two-word names like Happygirl, Goodluck, Keepon, Wiseman, Passwell, and Lovemore. And finally there are the creative names like Devilious, Lubinda, and Loveness. I am told that there is one tribe that names their children for products, and so you have a Spoon, a Hosepipe, and a Cellphone! Surnames are often melodic: Timba, Musama, Lubinga, Kachele, Chisanga, Kabutu, Chibundi. And place names are hard for us to pronounce sometimes: Chimwemwe and Twatasha are compounds near Mindolo, and our river is the Kafue.

I am back in Zambia after a 2-week absence. My daughter Cathy was expecting a baby May 18, so I scheduled a visit for May 16-25--but the baby still hadn't come when I had to leave. More news soon!


  1. Hi Ann. Zambian names are really strange for us and, sometimes, funny. I'd like to write a post in italian about this matter and publish it on my blog (linking yours, of course). Hope you agree...
    Best wishes for your staying there in Zambia and greetings from Italy.

  2. Done. Take a look here, if you want. If you don't like I'll remove it.
    Thanks and cheers.