What’s in a name?

‘Does she have another name?’

‘No, she’s only Kendi Kiarie’

‘Hmm, that’s interesting’

I think it’s only interesting because we live in Kenya, Africa. We have a culture of naming our children in the following manner: one African name, one English name (most people call this name the ‘Christian’ one- even when the name has nothing to do with Christianity), and one surname. Some people have 2 English names, so they end up with 4 names in all.

I went to India in 2012 with a traveling theater. It was amazing to be in a place whose culture is so different from my own home. The food was amazing (I really like spicy food), the people were so kind, and I could see their culture in everything that they did. This was most visible in their names. I did not meet even one David, Mary or Agnes (maybe they exist but I didn’t meet them). I met Ranjini, Arjun and Patel.

For as long as I can remember, I have held very strong opinions about what I wanted to name my children. I wanted my children to identify strongly with their heritage. I also wanted to ensure their names brought blessings to their lives.

Growing up, my mother had a neighbor called Tabu (this means ‘problem in Kiswahili). And Tabu suffered in her home. It might have been because her mother was essentially a single mother, because her father had left after she was born. But it might have been a self fulfilling prophecy because of her name. Either way, Tabu had a lot of problems in her life.

We wanted Kendi to carry a name that evoked love, peace and family. Her name means ‘the loved one’. It is Kenyan, which was the most important thing for me. I wanted to show pride in my heritage through the naming of my child. It was also very important to me that we don’t ‘hide’ her Kenyan name in between English names.

The name stands on it’s own, we don’t give people a choice to call her what they prefer. She is only ‘the loved one’.

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