Botswana beholds the death of Tom, Dick and Harry

20 Aug 2018

William Shakespear’s famous question, “what’s in a name?”seems to have taken a new urgency for most who wish to stand out from the crowd.

What do you do when you want to name your child Olivia but it's one of the most common names around for girls? You name your child Aliviyah instead. Anything unique to set your child apart.

Naming a child has become the ultimate power trip. It’s one of the first things parents do, and it comes with huge responsibility. A name, after all, sets the stage for a lifetime of interactions, laying the groundwork for how kids see themselves in the world and how they are perceived. Lately though a lot of people spend countless hours searching for that smart, perfect and interesting name even going as far as looking up words in languages they can’t speak just to find a unique name.

Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior sociology lecturer at the University Of Botswana says just as any other trends that are booming all over the world, the unique-name trend is now popular than ever. “As with fashion trends, the naming trend is now a big thing. Nowadays parents are obsessed with calling their children uncommon names. There is a certain shift from tradition towards modernity, names that used to be popular aren’t so popular anymore as parents now opt for names that sound more exotic and worldly, and every parent is trying to be different. I think our identity is at a crossroads as parents don’t call their children traditional names because they are deemed “old fashioned.” She says parents don’t name their kids names that are in touch with life anymore.

Names are the core of identity and are also part of our social cultural identity. The most popular names these days aren’t anywhere near as popular as those of the past years. Years ago names such as Mary or David were quite popular English names but because a lot of millennial parents are now having kids they are giving their kids names that fewer kids share. Of late, parents are opting for unique and different names so that when they call it out on the playground they won’t have five kids look at them. They want their kids to have a unique brand. More and more young parents are coming up with new ways to give unique names including unique spellings of more popular names perhaps because of the random whims of fashion.

Dineo Baruti an admin officer at Water Utilities Headquarters in Gaborone who also prefers unique and exotic sounding names says “young parents these days are millenials who are less concerned with social rules, most of them were raised with phrases like you shouldn’t care what anyone else thinks of you, you can be anything you want to be, it’s good to be different, so when they tell you their kid’s name is Mason or Mia it isn’t surprising. Setswana names are also slowly becoming extinct as more and more Batswana parents aren’t calling their kids Setswana names, they prefer English names or languages they can’t speak”. She says most millennial parents are using pop culture to pick a name.

Some draw inspiration from diverse sources such as the hit HBO fantasy series Game Of Thrones and popular celebrities, they are freely mixing up the spelling to create tongue-twisting, phonetics-defying new words, these parents want a name that no other kid would share in the playground; There is also a growing tendency to pick names that blur gender boundaries where a boy doesn’t necessarily have a name that screams “boy!”.For many young parents, "unique and “uncommon”" are the magic words when it comes to naming their children. Fewer kids are now being given popular and traditional names such as Mpho or Thabo. Some of the most creative afrocentric Batswana parents are putting a unique and novel spin to Setswana names and coming up with names such as Ale-Esi, Rafiwa and Arenaya.

Boipelo Nayang, an accountant at Flotek says she knew right away that she wanted her kid to have a unique name that stood out. “I believe thatyour name is your banner and therefore I wanted my baby to bear a different name than her future friends. She has a Setswana name but prefers to use another name instead to the Setswana one. A unique name alone isn’t enough; I think that whether it’s a common name or an unusual one, having a story behind it is more important for your identity. “She says she believes the reason unique names are more popular today is because each generation tries to separate itself from the previous one.