Letter to Aunty Rose

26 March 2018

In January 2018, I preached a sermon. There was nothing special about it. A lady I will call aunty Rose (the reason for this name will become clear in a moment) decided she wants to have a chat with me. I agreed. Throughout the conversation she kept calling me Rose. Initially I thought maybe I heard her wrong. Then I thought maybe she doesn’’t know my name (I mean my name and surname are printed on the pew leaflet). During the conversation I corrected her, about my name. she brushed it off saying she will just call me Rose, as it was much easier, besides she is learning Zulu. The moment she responded in this way I was no longer interested in what she had to say about the sermon. The conversation was meant to be about the sermon I had just preached. What follows below is a letter to Aunty Rose, explaining to her why calling me Rose is unacceptable. This letter was written to defuse the anger I felt after that conversation.

Dear Aunty Rose,

Following our conversation in Jan 2018, I would like to explain to you why calling me Rose is unacceptable, disrespectful, and to some extent a refusal to recognize my humanity. Most times I am okay with people mispronouncing my name, so long as they try to honour me and the name my parents gave me when I was born.

St John Chrysostom is said to have said the following: “So let the name of the saints enter our homes through the naming of our children, to train not only the child but the father, when he reflects that he is the father of John or Elijah or James; for, if the name be given with forethought to pay honor to those that have departed, and we grasp at our kinship with the righteous rather than with our forebears, this too will greatly help us and our children. Do not because it is a small thing regard it as small; its purpose is to succor us.”

The above quote by St John Chrysostom is self-explanatory. That covers the Christian dimension, of why names are important. Allow me to briefly use history to make my final point.

I know in your culture you big on family trees. When I was born I was named after my father’’s eldest sister. That means I am rooted and positioned in a specific place in the family. Every time anyone in the family calls me or sees me they are reminded of my rakgadi. This also connects me with past and future generations. When you call me Rose, you do what your ancestors have done to my ancestors. Uprooting them and stripping them of an identity. As far as I know, no one in my family is named Rose. Calling me Rose, robs me of a connection with the history of my family and people.

I have tried to be short, but I would like you to keep in mind the history of black people. The experience of having Christian missionaries telling people they need to take Christian names, as a way of coming to new life in Christ. This type of psychological uprooting has proven to be much harder to overcome. As it required a rejection of one’’s cultural identity, beliefs and practices. Slavery is another example of uprooting people, thus depriving them of community and a history. This resulted in people being treated as property that could be bought and sold without a second thought.

I am not prepared to engage with you further on this subject. There are many well written books that can help you understand how renaming people, is a form of violence, that has been used to oppress people. I suggest you do some reading.

Peace be with you

Rakgadi Khobo

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