‘My Name’ by Magoleng wa Selepe

African Savanna
African Savanna

I just thought about what happened to our fathers, mothers, grandmothers, and grandfathers during colonial times: to go to school African children were forced by European missionaries to adopt a christian name such as John, Peter (Jean, Pierre), etc… as opposed to their good old African name Nomzimo, Makeba, Ndoumbe, Keïta, etc.  Thus many Africans who would have just worn the name ‘Ndoumbe Mpondo‘ or ‘Binlin Dadié‘ or ‘Um Nyobé‘ had to adopt a European name such as John + their own name, such that they became: John Ndoumbe Mpondo or Bernard Binlin Dadié or Ruben Um Nyobé.  To this day, the tradition has remained… most Africans would have three or four names: their family name, and their given name, plus the European first name and in some cases a European middle name as well.  The poem below entitled ‘My name‘ by the South African poet Magoleng wa Selepe captures this very well.

My Name

Nomgqibelo Ncamisile Mnqhibisa

Look what they have done to my name……..

the wonderful name of my great-great-grandmother

Nomgqibelo Ncamisile Mnqhibisa

The burly bureaucrat was surprised

What he heard was music to his ears

‘Wat is daai, se nou weer?’

‘I am from Chief Daluxo Velayigodle of emalu podweni

And my name is Nomgqibelo Ncamisile Mnqhibisa.’

Messia, help me !

My name is simple

And yet so meaningful

But to this man it is trash…..

He gives me a name

Convenient enough to answer his whim…..

I end up being

Maria…..

I…………..

Nomgqibelo Ncamisile Mnqhibisa

by Magoleng wa Selepe

57 thoughts on “‘My Name’ by Magoleng wa Selepe

  1. What a thought provoking poem. I was given a name Mapula by my grandmother but it was never used or registered by mom instead Patricia was used so as to make it easier for her employers to call my name.

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  2. D.P. KRUGER

    I taught this poem to my grade 7 Xhosa learners. They absolutely love it. One of them dramatized it in a competition and won a first prize. By the way, I am a white teacher

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    1. Lovely poem indeed for a classroom study. Great idea! I love the idea of dramatizing the poem. Congratulations to the student for winning first prize.
      Thanks for commenting on the blog.

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  3. oupa ratlou

    My name was also changed by this colonials my forfathers which was given to me which belonged to my greategreate grandfather is Mmushi bt was changed to be Moshe.

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  4. thabisile shelembe

    analysis of this poem is very helpful but what i want to know why they called Nomgqibelo Ncamisile Mnqhibisa in stanza number 4 in line 4?

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  5. thabisile shelembe

    I was also given a name when my mother baptis me in church by white priest and i hate it with passion terressa instead of thabisile.

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    1. I totally agree with you Ignatia. It is such an important poem, because it does talk about Africa’s history, and its colonization, and the subtle changes imposed upon us by colonization. Thank you for visiting the blog.

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  8. romeo

    I just remembered this poem today; I did it at my grade 11 in 2010,is a lovely poem and an illustration on how our parent and fore parents got their name even if they did not like them

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  9. This is a very inspiring to people thAt have forgotten about their cultures and history of their aNcestors sooner or later they will regret it because you your culture anD Heritage is what maDe you who you are what you are

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  10. a name is so much more than a string of sounds and syllables. It’s your heritage, it’s your identity. There is just so much ignorance and disrespect in a person refusing to call you by your name because it is inconvenient for them. This poem is so beautiful in that it captures that idea so simply-yet so profoundly.

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    1. I totally agree with you Mukwebo. This poem indeed remind us of our heritage, and where we come from. Thanks for visiting the blog, and for commenting.

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  11. Reblogged this on African Heritage and commented:

    This poem by Magoleng wa Selepe has touched many strong chords. It is the truth, and still rings true today. As a reminder, our parents, grandparents, were stripped of their names, their identity during colonial times: to go to school, they had to have a European name, and very often their names were distorted because the European colonizer could not spell it right. Enjoy !!!

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  12. That poem certainly opened my eyes. European names can be a form of colonization and in worst cases a form of cultural erasure. I’ve been affected since I don’t have an African name as so many African-Americans in the states. It reminds me of that iconic scene in Roots where Kunta Kinte is whipped and told his name was going to be Toby. Without a name or language, one’s culture and identity become missing.

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      1. Exactly and I’ve been really realizing it more often especially after winding out which African ethnic groups were in my DNA test. It’s even been fun learning Lingala for example.

        Yes, and it’s still a heartbreaking scene to this day. That poem correlates to that scene on so many levels.

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  13. my name is such a nice poem …it takes me back in high school where teachers changed my name into camisile permanently pronouncing it khamisile which gave my name a painful meaning ….but my question was is it fair for us to pronounce indains name appropriately while they pronounce ours inappropriately just because our names differ from their language …I mean English is not our language and so is Eastern languages but we try because we were all brought in to this would to learn regardless of who we are and what we’ve achieved

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