It is early in 1998, and a young woman – umam’Gcina from the rural Thembu land, Lady Frere – is heavily pregnant with her second child. According to the doctor, she is a full month later than her predicted due date. 

She is put into induced labour; after eight hours of labour pains and the doctors saying, “Push! Push!” she welcomes a baby boy – her second – to her delight, and disappointment, because she was hoping for a girl.

She holds the baby and makes a call home: “Mama, ndibelekile umntwana oyindodana. Izaba ngubani?” – Mom, I have given birth to a baby boy. What should we name him?
“UNokwindla ozalwa eKwindla, Asithandile ama’Gcina asisikela ngomnye umntwana.” – The Gcina ancestors have loved us and blessed us with another baby. In that telephone conversation, my name was born hours after I was. 

Since birth, I have been viewed as a symbol of love and blessings from the heavens and the ancestors. My name has been both the heaviest and easiest cross to bear. How, you might ask? My name carries a deep meaning, over a heartfelt conversation. It is a name that carries my lineage in it  –  in full it is Asithandile ama’Gcina. Gcina is my clan name, M’Gcina, uXhamelela, uNokwindla. 

My name carries the lineage and genealogy of all those who have claim over my blood. It is an easy cross to bear; it makes me know who I am, and proud of who I am and where I come from. It assures me of the love I have received even before birth from my ancestors, to my family here. 

My name has five syllables. Every time I introduce myself as Asithandile, people want an easier, shorter version of the name.  This never sits well with me, given the history of my name and the history of names related to black people. 

In South Africa, when Europeans arrived, they stripped us of our names and gave us names that were easier for them to pronounce. This wasn’t unique to South Africa; all over the world, this happened. In the television series Roots, Kunta Kinte is taken from his home and enslaved. Stripped of his name, his identity, and given a new name; a name that doesn’t hold meaning for him, Toby Waller. 

In the John Kani and Zake Mda play, Nothing But The Truth, Sipho is stripped of his powerful name by a white man who refuses to learn to say his name, and who instead calls him, “Sifo”. Sifo means disease as opposed to what his name really means, gift. In real life, most of our grandparents and parents have English second names. This was for the benefit of the Europeans and their descendants, who never took the time to learn their powerful name. My maternal grandmother’s first name was Nomathemba, meaning “Matriarch of hope and trust”; they gave her the name Silvia.

For me this reality still exists daily; people refusing to learn to say my name and asking for a name convenient for their palates. When I introduce myself, people always ask, “Can I call you Asi?” Some do not even ask, they just call me Asi. Asi what? What does Asi mean? Or what even is an Asi? 

My name is my name; my name is not a problem. My name is my identity and that of those who came before me. It is a legacy left by my grandma, who gave me the name. A symbol to ensure I always look at myself as a gift of love; a love that echoes through ages, and through the veil of this life and the next.

My name is Asithandile Tyulu; even if it’s hard, you’re going to have to say it – it is my identity; do not take that away from me for your convenience.

Tell us: What is the meaning of your name? And is it meaningful to you?