Monday, July 20, 2009

What's in a name?

What's in a name? A name is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as " a word or phrase that constitutes the distinctive designation of a person or thing". A name gives meaning to what a thing is. A name gives a person a sense of identity.
Henry David Thoreau once said
"A name pronounced is the recognition of the individual to whom it belongs. He who can pronounce my name aright, he can call me, and is entitled to my love and service."

A name of a person, or a thing, also tends to vary with the language a person speaks, their dialect of the language, as well as any exposure to other languages (i.e. proper pronounciation in different languages). I have been blessed with an ability to learn languages fairly easily. As my friends and family (though maybe not all my readers are aware) Spanish is the first language I learned. Following Spanish, I learned English. Then, I took French lessons for roughly six academic years (two prior to secondary school and all four years of secondary).

To add further to my language, and also cultural, exposure I have been learning the Swahili language (referred to as Kiswahili in the Swahili language) since my arrival in Kenya in November of 2008.
At present I am even further blessed as now I have the opportunity to learn the Somali language also.

I'm pretty sure many of my readers are now wondering what I mean by this. Well the fact is, I've been relocated from where I was in Central Province to North Eastern Province.
Where I am living now, I am once again teaching Computers, though I might also be asked to teach for the Diploma program in Social Work and Community Development in the coming semesters.

So back to language now:
During my brief time in Kenya, I've been called many many names including [these are not in any particular order]:
Mzungu (foreigner); Mwalimu (teacher); Mzee (old person) -- being called an Mzee shows great respect; Danieli (sounds more Kenyan with the extra i at the end :D); Mr. Daniel (my student's sometimes call me this or just Mwalimu); Dan and Mr. Dan; On a few occasions some Kenyans have tried to call me by my last name which they are not very well able to pronounce (it is common in Kenya for people to call each other by their surnames instead of their first names); Baba (father) -- similar to Mzee, to be called a Baba is a sign of respect; Mkubwa (big man, big woman or boss) -- sometimes Kenyans who don't realize I understand Kiwashili will greet me "yes, boss" and on other occasions I've been greated "habari ya mkubwa?" - which is translated as news of the big man?; Bwana (mister/sir) -similar to Mr. Daniel i've been called Bwana Daniel or just Bwana sometimes; Kamau - Kamau is a Kikuyu name - it was explained to me that the name Kamau is to show respect to the Mau-Mau revolutionary fighters;
Muthungo (Kikuyu word for foreigner, very similar to Mzungu in Kiswahili); Duncan and David were the latest names I've been called [OK briefly, Duncan came about because when the cake was made the icing at first said Duncan instead of Daniel].
OK so that's about all the names I can think of at the moment. Even if there are more that come to mind, you get the idea of how the different names I've been called during my brief time in Kenya.

So, let's revisit the question: What's in a name? A rose by any other name smells just as sweet. Perhaps a rose is called a rose in English and its called a different name in a different language. I have recently found myself wondering: what is the real importance of learning the local language? In pre-service training, our language and cross cultural facilitators stressed the importance of learning the language and culture for better community integration.

At the time, I wasn't entirely sure what they meant by that. After our pre-service training, I knew enough Kiswahili to be able to have a tutor and expand on my understanding and knowledge of the Kiswahili language.
Of course as I was expanding on some knowledge I already had was much easier than coming to a community where Somali is spoken gas much as Kiswahili having hardly any knowledge of the Somali language.

Though I do not yet know a lot of Somali, I will be getting a Somali tutor in the very very near future to learn Somali not only for the sake of communication with the community members, but more importantly for community integration.
If I am seen as a member of the community, I am more likely to be able to be seen as trustworthy. Additionally, being a member of the community will provide experiences that will give me a greater insight as to projects that I can assist with to better the community during my remaining year and a half.

It is my goal to be seen as a member of this community just as I was in my previous community.

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