Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name.Psalm 91:14
A name is never just a name. The act of naming is filled with meaning, whether hopeful, in honor of, a blessing, makes a connection or a claim. It says something about the person giving the name, and sometimes about the one receiving it.
In Karamoja, everyone has at least two names. Not first and last, but Karimojong and “baptismal”. The baptismal name is really just an English or Italian name, it may or may not be Biblical and may or may not have been given at the time of baptism. It’s a strange syncretistic ripple of the Catholic missionaries who first came to Karamoja in the 1960’s. The Karimojong name is often taken from a relative of the father’s in a certain order: father, mother, brother, uncle, sister and so forth. The name itself may refer to a time of year or be just a name, but it will always carry the heritage of the clan.
One or two names are offered upon introduction. Learning all of another’s names, is a journey of discovery and deduction. Often the name given to a Mzungu is not the name they commonly use in the village. It can become a comical dance of descriptions when trying to deduce if you’re referring to the same individual, with references to family members, children (more often than spouses), where they live (at least with one wife), and physical appearances. Some Karimojong names have attached nicknames. Moru (mo-RU) Locam (lo-CHAHM). The stubborn mountain, that’s Carmel’s Karimojong name. If family isn’t close, they may name the child after the time of year, day of the week or time of day the child was born. I’ve met a “Harvest Time”, “Time of the Weeds”, “Time of Building”, “Time of Falling Leaves”, “Evening”, “Monday”, and “Night” to name a few. Other nicknames are given liberally. They aren’t shy about pointing out defining characteristics. I know people named things like, “Ever-Annoyed”, “Wire”, “Small Brown Bird”, “Spark”, “Hiccup”, “Hairy Red Packrat”, and “Jacket”. Sometimes the origin of the name is remembered and told often to regale visitors, sometimes not.
We named our children with intentionality. Their names carry promises and hopes, beauty and faith. Olive means fruitfulness, beauty, and dignity. The Mount of Olives occurs numerous times in the Bible, including where Christ often prayed with His disciples and was finally betrayed. We also chose Karimojong names for our children. Olive’s Karimojong name is taken from the mother of a dear friend: Longok Aciyo Lotiya Lowarukang Sofia. The poor child is never going to know when people are calling her. Even Olive has a different pronunciation in Karimojong. The paired nickname (Aciyo) is often said like “Ciyociyo”. This woman even had her own bull, which is unusual in this culture. Its name Lowarukang means “Looking for Mine”. I have yet to get the full story there! However, I do know because her only brother was much younger, she was a shepherd for her father’s herds. She even tells a story about how she killed a wild antelope when the shepherds were far from home taking their herds to find water. The men with her were incredulous and refused to eat it. After we told this woman the name we had chosen, she beamed with pride, counted off the number of relatives bearing her name, told me all her names (previously I had only known two), and then prayed. Now she affectionately calls me mother, her children call me grandmother, and we’re considered a part of the family.
As Olive has reached two years, she has earned other nicknames as well: Miss Mischief, Ekoleya (eh-ko-LAY-uh) “Fish”, and Eguruye (eh-gu-ru-YAY) “Pig”. She is always getting into something and finding new ways of getting what she knows she isn’t supposed to get, hence Miss Mischief. She loves water in all its forms – hot, cold, shower, bath, poured on her head or to drink – hence the name Fish. She isn’t always the most agreeable child and often refuses to greet people who are overly eager to gain her affection. Instead of greeting she will grunt, frown and hide in my skirt -hence the name Pig.
There are too many days when I am so enslaved by the tyranny of the urgent that I am blinded to the beauty that walks around on two feet within my own home, when I am frustrated by the piggish mischief instead of awed by the budding beauty. So today, I remind myself that my prayer for my children is not to simply live up to their earthly names. Rather, it is to know the only one whose name actually matters, to cling to Him in love, to honor His name and to flourish in His house. We named them so they would know His greatness, His hope, and His fruitfulness. May it be so.
But I am like an olive treePsalm 52:8
flourishing in the house of God;
I trust in God’s unfailing love
for ever and ever.