According to Setswana culture, a child may be given a name after one of the deceased or living relative. The person after whom a child is named, if alive, is usually an old person. To name a child after someone in Setswana is known as go reelela and such a name is known as leina la mareelelo. A child is only named after a respected relative with positive attributes such as being good looking, industrious, well-mannered, and successful. Children are never named after evil characters such as robbers, wizards, or witches. The evil characters were avoided since it was believed that the evil of the departed or old people may be passed on to the young. That is why Setswana has idioms such as: ina-lebe seromo “an evil name is an itchy rash” and leina le ya mareelelong “the bearer of a name adopts the behaviour patterns of one after whom he is named”. To name a child after an old person such as a grandmother or grandfather, or one who has died was done to preserve the memory of the departed person amongst the living. A child who is named after an elder is respected just like the original bearer of the name. They are not supposed to be insulted or mocked by other children since it was believed that such words were disrespectful to the original bearer of the name. A person could also be named after his own surname – which is the first name of their grandfather or great grandfather. Therefore, in Setswana there are many cases of persons who have their first names that are identical to their surnames such as: Molosiwa Molosiwa, Mothusi Mothusi, Sebonego Sebonego, Sejakgomo Sejakgomo, and Mosepele Mosepele.
The naming of children after historical or prominent figures is a common naming strategy that exists the world over. However, like Neethling (2005) observed with Xhosa names, this is a generally difficult categorization of names unless the name carriers or givers themselves divulge that the name is linked to a certain prominent figure. Neethling further states that such names can commemorate a person, an event, or an affiliation so there are diverse types of these names, even though they are motivated by the same idea of commemoration or celebration. In our study we have seen such names. The name Mopapa which is a Setswana version of the English word Pope was given to a child who was born on 13th September 1998, the day on which Pope St John Paul II visited Botswana. His visit was a memorable occasion to the people of Botswana, particularly the Roman Catholic members since it was the first time that a sitting Pope had visited Botswana. It is worth noting that the child who was called Mopapa was born in September, the independence month of Botswana, however, the parents chose a name associated with the visit of the Pope instead of the one related to independence celebrations. This is because independence celebrations are annual occurrences and not as unique as a papal visit, while the first visit of a sitting pope bore a greater national significance to the family and the country.
In our study we also interviewed a subject named Quiete who stated that he was named after the second president of Botswana, Sir Quett Ketumile Joni Masire. The name bearer was born in 1994, the year that Sir Masire became the president of Botswana for the third time after his party, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), won the general elections held that year. President Masire was in office for 18 years from 1980 to 1998 making him the longest serving president of the Republic of Botswana. The fact that President Masire became the president of the country for the fourth consecutive term in 1994 could have prompted the giving of this name, as it was regarded a significant event. While it is not disputed that the child was named after the president of Botswana, the name givers did not get the spelling of the president’s name correctly. We also interviewed another subject, named Bonyerile, who stated that he was named after Tshekedi Khama’s sister, Bonyerile Khama. Bonyerile and Tshekedi were born to Khama III, chief of the Bangwato, who was one of the three chiefs who travelled to England in 1885 to resist Cecil John Rhodes ownership. Khama III therefore was a prominent and revered figure and so anyone related to him was also held in high regard. It is, therefore, not surprising that ordinary people would want to be associated with him, even through giving children names. The name bearer is an old man who did not know his date of birth but stated that he is from the Bangwato tribe in Serowe and he did not know why he was named after a woman while he is a man. It is therefore evident that Batswana have a complex system of giving their children – maina a mareelelo.