What's In A Name?


I grew up wearing my country like I wore my name. With a matter-of-fact-ness that warranted little thought. It held my flesh in its ancient hands and called upon the love and intercession that gave my bones weight and my blood viscosity. 

Priscilla. 

Priscilla of Acts chapter eighteen verse two. 

Priscilla, wife of Aquila.

Priscilla, a female preacher’s name from the holy book that still leaps readily from my tongue.

At age twelve I found a book of baby names that unraveled the mystery of its meaning. All along I had known what it meant in terms of sentiment, but not in terms of semantics. In sentiment, it held my mother’s dreams for me. That I would grow up rooted in the word of god and speak it boldly to this world of men. In semantics, according to the book of baby names, it was Greek for “ancient one”. Not “ancient” in terms of old and tired. But “ancient” in terms of constant and enduring. In terms of having existed for so long as to be integral to being itself.

According to a Google search result later on, it turned out to be Latin, not Greek. (According to another, it was Roman, not Latin). Meaning ancient. Meaning classic. Classic was a good thing to be and let’s face it- names can tell us who and how to be. 

~~~

I grew up wearing my name like I wore my country, my country like I wore the skin I was in. I took it for granted. The thing with names, countries and skin is that you feel them most when they are being ripped away. 

My name was ripped from me by jarring realizations that there was trauma in my bones. It curled up from the corners of my soul like a wayward cuticle, begging to be pulled and cut away. The sacred things my names once held, the prayers and secret longings, fell fast away and the name became a thing to be exsheathed. It was a molting I never knew would happen. 

My country was ripped from me when grew acquainted to the irony of its existence. A construction of colonial conquest whose existence defied the same. How was it that I was a subject to this thing that I never consented to? This thing that’s younger than my father’s bones. This thing that’s recent, made by men who keep it underneath their feet for their own survival? I felt at once trapped and beguiled by this entrapment. In being Malawian, I asserted distance from all that warred against everything I was (against my name, against my skin), and yet I was close enough to smell its rancid breath.

My skin was never ripped from me. Not really. It was merely brought to my attention. As was my body- the shape of it, the heft of it. The way it commanded attention or caused me to be overlooked. The way it moved as a little girl and the way it stiffened at adolescence. And lately, the way it is becoming easier to live in the more I let it unfurl and teach it that it isn’t sin after all. 

~~~

At fourteen I asked my mother what she would do if I gave myself another name. She kept her eyes on the pot, her hand on the wooden spoon, her brows furrowing and threatening to collide. 

“To what?” 

She’d firstly misheard me. Ma had thought I wanted a name instead of the one I had, the one she’d made my first possession in this world of men. She’d thought I intended to throw away the prayers she had tucked deep in its folds. 

She’d secondly spoken as a woman who wasn’t a stranger to the meaning of names and the scripts they bestow. Years earlier, she had denounced a name too damning for her sanctity of mind, replaced hers like she feared I would mine. She named herself Chifundo. Mercy. That’s the name my Ma had chosen for herself. A name for absolution, for unpunished guilt, for pardon. A name that presumes her in the wrong and needing clemency. Mercy. 

I firstly corrected her mishearing. 

“I mean a third name- that’s what I mean”. Ma’s brows relaxed. 

“What name?” Ma asked.

“I’m not sure yet,” I admitted. “But what would you say if I did?” 

“If it is a good name, why not?” She said, looking up finally, placing a lid on both pot and conversation. 

~~~

Last year I made good on my promise. I changed my name. I did it without ceremony, without noise or fanfare. I did not take a third one- I put my second one to use. Takondwa. 

A sentence folded neatly into one word. A state of being packed up in a sentence, folded up into a word.

I found that a slight shift in intonation of this name changes it into a command to be glad from a declaration of the same. 

Takondwa: We are glad.

Takondwa: Be glad. 

On the heels of mild depression (if such a thing exists in such a degree as ‘mild’), a tragic brush with love, a painful loss of things of faith, both declaration and command were necessary. And so it was. I wore my name like I wear my clothes. Deliberately. With purpose and intention. With faith in my need for them. For it. With attention to aesthetic, and concern for what they’ll say of me. Of what it will say of me. 

And so it is, Takondwa is my name. A nod to kin. A name becoming skin.