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The Use of Proverbial Names Among the Nguni People

Phumzile Simelane-Kalumba, Thokozile Mabeqa and Sihawukele Ngubane


Published: 2015/03/01


In the Bantu languages of South Africa there exist a vast number of personal names that are directly or indirectly linked to oral art, called proverbial names. These names provide a window on the historical, symbolic and socio-cultural background of the name giver. Oral traditions were passed on from generation to generation—through narratives, proverbs, idioms, riddles, songs, praise poems and names. Traditionally, these language symbols were used to shape their society as well as to instill values that were held in high regard, such as ubuntu (humanity). In this paper, some examples are shown to illustrate that each proverbial name has an anchor found in proverbs, and if this anchor is lost or forgotten, the meaning is muted. This paper reveals that meanings evoked by proverbial names are always socially constituted and context related. It also shows that child naming using proverbs has other socio-cultural applications, such as to warn, to caution, to communicate, to vent anger and to act as a form of remembrance of events that surrounded the birth of a child.

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