“What is in a name?” – Shakespeare
Apparently a lot if you are from Uganda and many other African countries. Way more than just inheriting your grandfather’s name, or getting a combination of your parents names, or simply just because. Names can instead say “I am a twin” or “I was born at home”, or plenty of other interesting, and very personal, anecdotes. The naming process in Uganda is complex and depends most of all on your tribe and clan. I won’t dare to try and explain it. But, here is a bit of what I learned from coworkers while I was in Gulu, northern Uganda.
In the Acholi culture your name can shout to the world that your mom had a difficult delivery, that your dad’s family did not love your mom, that you were born in poverty, that you were born legs first, that you have a birth defect, or that you were born *on the way* to the hospital.
If you are Acholi you have two names, an Acholi name based on some circumstance surrounding your birth, like the above, and then a second name chosen much like first names in a lot of countries around the world, because your parents or grandparents liked it. Unlike in much of the world the Acholi people don’t inherit a specific last name from anyone, so many people have zero names in common with their siblings and parents.
If you are born *after* a set of twins you will be called Akello, if you are a woman, or Okello, if you are a man. I have met several Akellos in my life and never knew this fact. This reason, to be born after twins, stood out to me among many of the other names as it is not directly about that person. Is not like they are the twin, or they have a birth defect, or they are the third child. It is about an event that had nothing to do with them: his/her siblings being twins. It is external to them, and signifies the importance of having twins and also the frequency of twins in that part of the world. Having twins is still loaded with myths and rituals, and it is indeed common in Uganda. In fact, the highest rate of twins in the world is in Africa, specially in Nigeria and Central-African countries. A combination of factors leads to a high rate of twins, the most important being maternal age (the older the more likely, up until 38), but also the amount of pregnancies the mother has had, the mother’s height, and of course, genes.
Here are some of other interesting Acholi names (male/female):
- Apio/Opio. First Twin
- Acen/Ocen. Last Twin
- Acan/Ocan. Born in poverty
- Odoch/Adoch. Born legs first
- Ajok/Ojok. Has a birth defect
- Ojara/Lajara. Has an extra finger and/or toe
- Oyella. The family of the father didn’t like the mother
- Lakaraber. The family of the father received the wife gladly
- Oyo/Ayo. Born on the way to the hospital
- Atim/Otim. Born as the dad was away hunting or born on a big town outside the hometown
My naming story is not nearly as interesting, my father’s name is Carlos and my mother’s name is Consuelo. Hence, Carla Consuelo 🙂
Tell me, what is in YOUR name?