What’s in a Name?

You should know, People of the Internet, that this blog was originally a product of putting pen to paper. This, I suppose, forces what I’m writing more into the ‘journal entry’ category, rather than the ‘web log’ one. Light has been fickle lately, not showing for days at a time, or more infuriatingly, making a brief, hour-long appearance before bidding adieu, duping all of us light-lovers into mistakenly thinking it’d settled back in for the night. Needless to say, this has caused a great disruption in my Friends watching schedule, and well as severely impeding my plans to sit on Facebook for hours at a time. I am beside myself.

Many of you reading this know me by a name other than my given one. Junior, Freddy, Peanut, GA, Gootee, the Peace Corps Peach, what have you. This has proved to be helpful here in Cameroon, as many Roonies are in the same boat as me—sure, they’ve got a name, but why be chained by the confines of a birth certificate when you can do so much more to jazz it all up? Cameroonians are often bestowed with nicknames by family members. The eldest girl in a household is frequently called ‘mom’ by those around her. The youngest is commonly called ‘Benjamin’. Bali culture has a whole slew of substitutes in accordance with the Mugaka language, also dependent on your birth order, or sometimes, the day of the week you were born.

I prefer to stray from the age-old traditions, though, and instead enjoy looking at the self-imposed monikers that grace anything from graffiti’d market walls, to taxis, to well-established store front signs.

Riding around Bamenda you’re sure to notice the hanging plaques of Dr. Mofo’s Herbal Healing Center or Master P’s Funeral Service. On your way to beach town Limbe you’ll pass Dr. Obama’s snack bar. In any city you’ll be entertained by the titles of taxis and motorbikes— ‘Young Money’ passing you on the left while ‘Problem Boy’ takes a hard right onto a side street. Sometimes the vehicles get into more political waters, hosting such titles as ‘Air Force One’ or ‘The White House’. A quick ride on the shag-carpeted seats surrounded by the chauffeur’s impressive collection of stuffed bears and plastic flowers, though, will assure you that you are riding in neither the President of America’s private plane nor stopping by his residence.

During the introductory class of my Community Health Educators program at a local technical high school I made the mistake of inviting the class of 50 to introduce themselves. Not more than a dozen students in, a small boy stands to recite the standard speech of name and village. He makes it through the three-piece title, a blur of family name and Christian name, and quickly closes with his family’s village. Before he sits down he adds one last note. He’d really prefer it if, instead of the several syllable name I’ve already forgotten, I called him by his nickname: ‘Black Jesus’.

After I finished poorly stifling my laughter I assured him that, as long as he paid attention to the class and didn’t promote by seemingly Cameroonian-wide nickname of ‘Whiteman’, I’d be happy to call him whatever he wanted.


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