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About Naming and Identity (And how I share a Story with Thandi Newton)



My mother recently told me that I too, like Thandi Newton, was supposed to have been a Thandiwe. It seems she had forgotten about it but when she stumbled across the article about Thandi Newton reclaiming her birth name, she remembered that when I was born back in 1988 her and my father had wanted to call me Thandiwe but the Standesamt in Berlin refused, claiming that because they did not know the name and had no proof that it was in fact a name for a girl child they would not be able to accept it.

But my mother who loved the name so much looked all over for proof that the name was in fact a name. At the time of course there was no internet and so it was not just a matter of doing a simple google search as it would be today. She finally found a newspaper article that mentioned someone by the name of Thandi. Since it was the only thing close enough to Thandiwe she could find, she took the newspaper clipping back to the Standesamt where the public servant now graciously accepted “Thandi”, but of course not “Thandiwe”, because you can’t just go around adding a whole “W” and an “E” to “Thandi” without proof that that exists as a name somewhere in the world, I mean, “Wo kämen wir denn dahin??”.

And that is how I came to be Thandi. Of course, this does not at all explain how I came to have my full name: Thandi Nayma Nicola Tshifhiwa Sebe. I mean. Tshifhiwa? How did the public officer accept Tshifhiwa? After not accepting Thandiwe? I literally cannot pronounce it to this day without a Venda person laughing in my face but this lady at the Standesamt said: “Write it down for me I don’t understand which letters of the alphabet you are saying. Okay, cool, no problem.” I think perhaps she was just stressed out by the thought that my parents might show up every week with more newspaper clippings and so she finally gave in?

I could of course ask my parents how the naming process went down and why they decided to give me enough names for a whole village, but this is what I imagine how it all transpired:

“Oh look, a girl child! What should we call her? Thandiwe! Oh, not possible? Okay, let’s go with Thandi. And then maybe let’s add Nayma, because that too, like Thandi, has nothing to do with either of our cultures or backgrounds and no one will understand why we called her that. Yes?”

“Okay“ (lol, that’s obviously my dad responding)

“Anyone else want to add a name? German grandma? “Nicola”? Okay, sure why not, it’s not that great a name, but hell, you don’t get to name a kid every day right, so let’s throw it in there. Okay, South African grandma? “Tshifhiwa”? She’ll never be able to spell that or pronounce it, haha, that’ll be hilarious. So Thandi Nayma Nicola Tshifhiwa Sebe? That all? Sure? Okay, cool. Done. “

Something like that. And then when they had their second child four years later, they were one hundred percent like: “Oh shit, that was unexpected. What now? We’ve already used ALL the names in the world for our first-born”. So naturally they just decided to re-use a name. They called my sister Naima. That’s right. They called me Nayma and then they took that same name, exchanged the y for an i and said: “It’s as good as new”. Which is funny because that is what parents always do with second-borns. A second born always gets the first-borns old everything. Naima wore my old clothes, got my old drinking bottle, my old pram and my old name.

But of course, it didn’t end there because as we all know you have to give your children at least two names or else what is even the point of having a child.

“Anything else?”

“Maybe Malaika?”

“Omg that’s beautiful and it will also be really interesting because everyone will think she’s Muslim with those two names.”

Funnily Naima really does look like she could be Muslim in a South African context. Not that not anyone could be Muslim regardless of the way you look but…you know what I mean. She has long black wavy hair and dark features. Basically, what I mean is no one in South Africa looks at her and says: “Naima? Really? Are you sure?” in the way that people do with me when they hear my name: “Thandi? Thaaaaaaaandi? Wena? Are you sure?”.

Anyway, a good decade or so later my parents had another child, and that went like this:

“Singita”

“Cool”

“second name?”

“Nah”

And that was that. Because by the third child everyone is just kind of tired.

Of course, none of this is true except for the fact that I was supposed to be named Thandiwe at birth and German authorities did what they do best which is be bureaucratic and make things difficult. So, I wondered when I heard Thandi Newton’s story whether I too should reclaim my name and call myself Thandiwe but then honestly I feel like Thandi Nayma Nicola Tshifhiwa Sebe…well, I think it might be enough.



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