By Tafi Mhaka

Take me to Timbuktu for Christmas. Or should I go to a Praia or N’Djamena? I could spend Boxing Day in Ouagadougou. Or I could simply serenade Ethiopian women in Addis Ababa before the dawn of the New Year. Or should I go to Accra. I hear East Africa calling me. Should I do Garissa or Mombasa? Kigali is the place to be this December I heard. But I might just do a little Kampala as well. Or I could go to Mahango Game Park in Bwabwata National Park. Or go fishing along the Okavango River basin. Or I’ll go surfing at Lachinga .

The spirit of Africa is in the air in Tsholotosho. The spirit of the wild is in Hluhluwe–Imfolozi Park. The spirit of Africa lives in Jozi. Jozi is the personification of the fast life: Jozi has drama; excitement; fun; loud music; love; fast love; passion; heartbreak; money; booze; pretty girls; fast rides; cheap rides; designer wear; cheap clothes; tall buildings; big buildings; flashy buildings; old buildings. Jozi is surely the living embodiment of the African dream. Jozi speaks in tongues: Jozi speaks in languages you cannot understand all the time. Jozi speaks Tswana. Jozi speaks Yoruba. Jozi speaks Mossi. Jozi speaks Ndebele. Jozi speaks Oromo. Jozi speaks Swahili. Jozi speaks Tshivenda. Jozi speaks Shona. Jozi speaks Tsotsitaal. Jozi speaks Afrikaans. Jozi speaks Zulu. Jozi speaks Herero. Jozi speaks lingala. But what is in the name of a language when all who live in Jozi speak and understand each other?

Does a name define who you are? Say I called you Betty or Roger from here on. Would you feel lost in this world? Does a name define your character or does your character define your name? While the great man himself; the founding father of South Africa, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela had an English first name; the history of Africa and Africans in the diaspora is littered with names of people who have sought to define their African heritage by ditching their European names. El-Hajj Malik el Shabazz, a man christened Malcolm Little at birth is famously remembered as Malcolm X, the great American civil rights leader. He dropped his English name on the advice of the then leader of the nation of Islam; Elijah Muhammad.

The later dictator of the Democratic Republic of Congo Joseph Mobutu took the renaming of cities and places and people to an entirely new stratosphere as he sought to decolonise the minds of Zairians. Under a state ideology appropriately titled Authenticité or Zairianization Mobutu changed the name of the country from the Republic of the Congo to Zaire in 1966.

And he changed the name of the capital city from Léopoldville to Kinshasa. Mobutu led by example and changed his name from Joseph Mobutu to a more flamboyant and Africanesque name: Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Ba Zanga. Christian names were forbidden by law as Mobutu and his party, the Popular Movement of the Revolution (MPR), set about to rid Zaire of Western cultural influences in the 1960s.

It is just not Zaire that changed names. Southern Rhodesia became Zimbabwe on the attainment of independence in 1980. South West Africa changed to Namibia when apartheid South Africa granted it independence in 1990. And it is not just countries or people that have tendency to assume new names. Name changes are quite the game changer in the corporate world where names have the ability to grab the attention of brand conscious consumers. It is all a part of consumer centric approach to marketing. The brand centricity of a name can make or break the marketability of a brand experts say.

Now we all love Google, the company, dearly; we love to use Google, the search engine, to google facts about friends, family, people, work; let us face it: we love to google life. Would you believe that when Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google on September 4, 1998 in Menlo Park, California in the United States, they named it BackRub? And later changed it Google. Now: Imagine telling a friend to “Just BackRub it?” It sounds rather smutty don’t you think? What about Apple Computers? How does that sound? Steve Jobs dropped the “Computers” bit in 2007 as the company had diversified its product range to include consumer electronic products like the iPod, Apple TV and iPhone. Another tech giant, or should I say a former tech giant called Research in Motion changed its name to Blackberry after struggling to get any traction in the marketplace. Too bad Blackberry certainly did not get much long-term traction.

One brand that has made a name for itself over time is Pepsi. It is certainly one of the most recognisable brands in the world. But in 1893, when a North Carolina pharmacist named Caleb Brandam made the formula for Pepsi, it was known as Brad’s Drink. “Oh, I’ll have a Brad, please” sounds so not right.

You may have a Sony PlayStation at home or Sony Xperia X smartphone. When Sony was founded in 1946 the company went by the name Tokyo Tshushin Kogyo. Would you buy a Kogyo Xperia 5? Or a Kogyo Playstation 4? The company changed its name to Sony Corporation in 1958. Like Sony, Starbucks is a famous global brand. Starbuck is an American coffee company and a coffeehouse chain with franchises across the world. Well it used to be known as Starbucks Coffee, Tea and Spice. Yes: it is worth repeating: Starbucks Coffee, Tea and Spice became Starbucks after a change of ownership in 1987. Starbucks does not go down nicely with tea and spice for a name, does it?

Nike has brought us Air Jordan amongst many other famous brands. Its products are endorsed by the likes of Michael Jordan, Kevin Durant, Cristiano Ronaldo and LeBron James among other world famous athletes. Nike, which used to be known as Blue Ribbon Sports is named after the Greek Goddess of victory. Are you an avid gamer as well? If you have a Nintendo Wii you are lucky not to own a Marafuku Wii actually. Marafuku Company changed its name to Nintendo in 1963.

Changing names is a big thing in show business too; a really big phenomenon. Katy Hudson is known to the world as Katy Perry. Would her hit single “Teenage Dream” sound as good if it had been recorded by a Kate Hudson? Would Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr be a big rap star with a reported net worth of US$120 million if did not call himself Snoop Doggy Dog? Drake, the One Dance hitmaker, is actually called Aubrey Drake Graham. I have a theory why Drake did not go with Audrey. (You probably have yours too.) Spike Lee, the director of Chi-Raq, a 2015 American satirical musical drama film about gang violence in Chicago, is really Shelton Lee. Lil Wayne, the Young Money rapper, who is no longer little by any stretch of the imagination by the way, is legally known as Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. Rick Ross, the world-famous rapper from Miami who just happens to be a former prison guard, got his stage name from a famous drug dealer called Richard Donnell “Freeway Rick” Ross. Reports say “Freeway Rick”, who spent 20 years in prison for dealing in narcotics, made up to 2.5 billion gross, and $850 million in profit per year in the 1980s. As for Rick Ross, the rapper, his real name is William Leonard Roberts II. “Hip hop’s first billionaire,” Dr Dre, is called Andre Romelle Young. And have you heard of Demetria Guynes? She used to be married to Ashton Kutcher. Her real name is Demi Moore.

Now think about Jozi; Jozi, my Jozi. Would Jozi be Jozi if it were called Gaborone? Would Harare be Harare if it were called Lagos? Does the name of the city you live in define the people that inhabit it? Would Melville feel like Melville if it were in Bloemfontein? What if Soweto swapped names with Umlazi? Would it feel like the Soweto you know? Would the spirit of Braamfontein feel like it does if Braam packed its bags and set up shop in Nelspruit? Would the bars and clubs in Lusaka rock as much if Lusaka changed its name to Newcastle? Would Lilongwe be as sunny and beautiful if it were called Alice? What if Facebook changed its name to Vanity would that change its appeal for you? Because some residents in New York have removed the name of Donald Trump from their buildings after his win in the presidential election last week I had to talk about names.

Africa: What it is in a name?

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