‘I hate being named after an animal’

Christine Wangari, 54, at her home in Nakuru. INSET: Nakuru K24 correspondent John Wang’ombe. Photo/JOHN MAINA.
Christine Wangari, 54, at her home in Nakuru. INSET: Nakuru K24 correspondent John Wang’ombe. Photo/JOHN MAINA.

Some Kenyans bearing animal names say it is daily torture withstanding mimicking and taunting from family, relatives and friends who associate their eating, walking, talking and temperament to that of animals they are named after. People from the Mount Kenya region are known for their penchant for weird and peculiar animal names.

Ngari, Nyaga, Njogu, Nyamu, Ngige for leopard, ostrich, elephant, animal and locust respectively are among names that most bearers have to contend with. Even if Wang’ombe is not a direct animal name, it means a cow. Nakuru K24 correspondent John Wang’ombe had to go through rough times during his childhood when teachers, playmates and neighbours opted to omit the ‘wa’ and called him Ng’ombe.

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“I had contemplated changing my name. However, my dad stopped me. My cousins  who are named after my grandfather like myself have all changed names,” Wang’ombe says unimpressed. “My colleague, Bernard Gitau has adopted an English version of my name, it pleases him when he calls me “Wacow,” the 26-year old says cackling.

“But I have come to terms with the name. I don’t get offended like before,” he says disclosing that his name originated from his grandfather who discarded  Karumba and adopted Wang’ombe because he had large herds of cattle. But Wang’ombe is not an isolated case. Josephat Nyamu, a shoe seller in Nakuru says all his life, people have replaced his original name with their self-pleasing names drawn from it.

“They either call me “Mnyama” or Animal,” Nyamu says but unlike Wang’ombe, Nyamu has never thought of changing his name, “If anything, I feel proud of the name. I introduce myself as Nyamu to strangers.”   ‘Mr elephant’ A Nakuru lawyer John Njogu is another bearer of a unique animal name that means an elephant.

Njogu has grown loving his name and feels superior anytime he thinks about what his name stands for. “I am slender but my grandparent was a chubby fellow. Probably he wanted to make me feel courageous and stronger and bigger as an elephant,” Njogu says, flexing minor biceps. Strangely, Mount Kenya names do not adversely affect women, although there are few who have animals names such as Wangari, loosely translated to ‘of a leopard’.

This names  is given to children whose grandmothers were as tough as a leopard.  Thinking of Wangari, probably the best example which springs to mind is that of Martha Wangari Karua. The Narc Kenya leader and former presidential aspirant. The lawyer-cum politician is renowned for her bravery and tenacity.  “During my primary school days, I hated my second name.

Actually, I preferred fellow pupils calling me Christine,” says Wangari. Naming people after animals is also common among Merus. Names such as Mbiti (hyena) Njoka (snake) Mbaka (cat) Nceege (mongoose) are common. Joseph Njoka, a 29-year old school bursar in a city secondary school says it drives him nuts when he remembers that his name means a snake and a snake is a dangerous, crafty reptile.

“Of all beautiful names in Meru, why did my mother and our relatives prefer to name me after a reptile which is great enemy to mankind? I feel offended but my mum said a name is a name,” a visibly annoyed Njoka says. According to Robert Kariuki, a 55-year old psychologist based in Nairobi, “ Be careful about the name you give your child, otherwise he may assume the behaviour and habit of that animal.” “Name holds a highest degree of importance because  it defines the person’s personality and shapes his or her identity,” says Kariuki. – By JOHN MAINA


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  1. […] cordial Wang’ombe narrates to us how it all happened at around 6am on October 21, […]

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