Mar(k): Travel, Hiking, and "Doing Good"

musings on our life of travel and volunteering

what’s in a name?

with 2 comments

This question was asked in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  It has got me thinking about what we call ourselves, and call others…. And how that differs in different cultures.  Interesting. Here are some comparisons that I have noticed, based on experience in living and sharing in different cultures:

  • Autralians (or should I say Aussies) love to shorten names, and/or make nicknames out of them. Barry becomes Baz (or Bazza), Catherine is Cat (or Cath), and so on.
  • In Ghana,when two people have the same name (say Tanko), then if YOUR name is Tanko, and you see the other fellow who is also Tanko, then you call him “Name”.
  • For twins born in Ghana, it is common practise for a boy and girl to have very similar names. Paul and Paulina, Chris and Christina, Alex and Alexandra, and so on.  So no wonder then, that a few people DID wonder if WE were twins, given that we are called Mar and Mark!!!
  • For North American Indians, people are often introduced to new people (also Indians) by placing them in a family context. So for example, I would be referred to as “this is Mar;  late Auntie Marie Anne’s daughter from Calgary”. Note the acceptability of using the name of people who are deceased.
  • This is a cultural no-no for Indigenous Australians.   In this culture, you should not speak the name of the deceased once they have passed away.  So rather than say “Jill”, we might refer to her once she has passed as “Jack’s sister” or “Sally’s mother”.  If there was another Jill in the community, she would then have a new name that she would be called; a nickname perhaps or her traditional Aboriginal name.
  • This extends also to places that might have the same name as the deceased.  So for example, in the East Kimberly, the town of Katherine in the Northern Territory is now called “K town”, as a sign of respect for this cultural tradition.
  • On a somewhat lighter note, even nicknames can have different meanings. Fellows who have the name “Walter” in North America are often called “Wally”. But in Australia, all the Walter’s I know are shortened to “Wal”, presumably because of the association here that a “Wally” is someone who is silly or stupid!
  • And don’t even get me started with the snickering that goes on in Oz when a North American refers to a “bum bag” as a “fanny pack”!!!

Think I will leave it there. But if you have any other examples of cultural naming issues, we would love to hear about them!


Written by Mar(k)

March 19, 2012 at 8:40 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Very interesting. Among most of the tribes in the Upper-East region of Ghana, the prefix ‘A’ is added to a person’s name if the name is also describes something else. For example, a piece of iron is ‘kurug’ and ‘Akurug’ becomes a person’s name. or a tree is ‘Tia’ or ‘Tiig’ while the perosn’s name becomes ‘Atia’ or ‘Atiig’.


    March 19, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    • Thanks for this, Tanko! I didn’t know this! I found so many of the Ghanaian names so beautiful to my ears!


      March 19, 2012 at 10:08 pm

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