Names do not translate into African values
So the debate over European names versus African names has reared up its head again. And, it would seem, some have missed lessons from the last time, and the time before that. I have noted that the proponents of African names are making their arguments in English, instead of “drumming” them from ridge to ridge in mother-tongue. By what logical process do we arrive at the conclusion that the person who bears strictly African names will espouse African values and faithfully transmit African culture?
More importantly, what is African culture? What are African values? Personally I prefer Chinua Achebe’s all-inclusive definition: If it happens on African soil; if people of African origin do it, then “it” is African. But culture is dynamic. Whether the self-styled Africanists know it or not, Africans have married across the tribal and racial divide. Furthermore, I have come across people who have no African origins, living in Africa, who use names of African origin.
I have also noted that the dictionary contains many words and expressions that are of African origin, “vuvuzela” being a random example. South Africans may be forgiven for their simplistic views in this debate, because they are now at the point where much of the rest of Africa was many, many decades ago, but I writhe in shame when my own compatriots publicly expose not only their ignorance, but the inherent contradictions in their so-called African value systems.
© Katheu Mbithi, Nairobi
11th August 2012, The Daily Nation