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Elimination by substitution: magnifying the importance of self through personal name choice

Evangeline Bonisiwe Zungu
Sylvia Phiwani Zulu


Zulu personal names have always enjoyed preference (in the home front) because of their meaningfulness, however, for name-bearers discussed in this article, the emphasis is on the explicitness rather than meaning. It is the aetiology and the stories behind African names discussed here which cause name-bearers to prefer their Euro-Western names. The article looks at how the explicit and confrontational nature of African names shifts the preference to Euro-Western names because of their neutrality and indirectness. From time immemorial Africans have been using names to air their discontent. It has been effective to vent and to avoid direct confrontation within traditional families. The confrontation is avoided at all cost because it may anger the living-dead. This is deeply rooted in the Zulu people’s thought pattern and religious beliefs. Choosing a Euro-Western name gives the name-bearer authority over his/her situation and he/she takes the power away from the name-giver. The article employs self-categorisation theory to differentiate between individual and social theory and looks at how these names shape the identity of the namebearers.

Keywords: Ethnocentrism, names, identity, self-catergorisation, preference