Getachew, Fekedu, Tigist ...Ethiopian names are a continual source of interest for me. Unlike
Western names, they are most often words taken directly from daily language. Hiwot, for
example, a common female name, is the word for "life". (It also happens to be the slogan for
the biggest condom company in Ethiopia, so you see posters and stickers
proclaiming "Hiwot" everywhere!) Apart from daily language, the other common source of
names, is of course the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. One meets many Sarahs,
Abirehms, Yisaaks and so on.
When I meet someone who speaks English, I often ask them what their name means. Some names
are very unusual to a Canadian ear: The Worldís Eyes, Heaven, Dawn, Light, We Understand,
Fresh, Orange. We have even met a couple, man and woman, who have the same name:
Occasionally, you can make a good guess about the birth order of someone from
their name: "Full House", "Ten Thousand". One man I met, "I Have Seen a Ghost", told me that
his father was dying just before he was born, but miraculously recovered just after he was born.
Ethiopians do not have last names, or family names, but rather use their fatherís first
name as a second name. So you might meet a Bekele Abriehm and a Abriehm Bekele. Women
do not change their second name when they marry, but keep their fatherís name for life. Unlike in
Canada, sons are not often named after their fathers. This would result in a Bekele Bekele.
Without distinct family names, in a country of sixty-five million, many people have the same name.
For formal occasions, such as a college graduation, three names are used: Own name, fatherís
name, paternal grandfatherís name. And apparently, to be absolutely certain of an
individual, the government requires everyone to know seven names, seven generations back on
their fatherís side. Do you know your great, great, great, great, great,
grandfatherís first name?
Ethiopians often ask me what my name means. They seem surprised to the point of
disbelief when I tell them usually our names donít mean anything in particular. "Lemen?" / "Why?"
How can one really explain that aspect of our culture? Of course to the 60 million
people in the United Kingdom, and many Ethiopians who have learned some British English, my
name does mean something. "Why are you called 'truck'?" This is very amusing for a lot of
people and it is difficult to explain that Lori does not mean Lorry in Canada! "Lemen?"
I hope everyone had a good New Yearís.
Salem! (Peace - also a common womanís name)
Ethiopian Proverb of the month: It is better to be the head of a rat than the tail of a lion.