Nomen est Omen

10 male names for one African woman

“Wait – I’ll spell that again.” That could be my second name. This phrase has more of less something to do with my family name MUKARUHOGO. This is why I often have to converse (spelling my name) with ten names of men on the phone first before moving on with a conversation.

M  artin

U   lric

K    onrad

A   nthony

R    ichard

U   riah

H   enry

O   laf

G   abriel

O   scar

My African family name MUKARUHOGO – aside from being a real winner in terms of spelling – has sometimes had it merits, too. People often drop the formalities and call me Jeanne only shortly after first meeting because it is considerably easier to remember. Or take my physics teacher at high school. From day one, he in fact thought MUKARUHOGO was too difficult so I was the only one in my class who he still addressed by first name until the last year of my high school: “You, Mrs Jeanne…”.

The only person to “blame” for this confusion surrounding my family name is my granny – an incredibly impressive, wonderful and admirable woman from Burundi, my home country. I was born with my father’s family name: MBARUBUKAYE (which would have caused just as much confusion in Europe).  MBARUBUKAYE was and still is the greatest hero in my life. A great man – over 6’6” tall, strong, imaginative, understanding and always with a special glint in his eyes. My hero was not only enamoured for his children, he was also in awe of his mother. My granny was one of the strongest women that the Kirundo, a Province in northern Burundi, had ever seen. Her husband passed away early on and she had to raise five children all by herself. She got back up from every difficult experience she had to go through and had developed a special kind of strength with which she was able to turn her visions and wishes throughout her life into reality.

Everyday life was hard near the borders of Rwanda. Fighting starvation and heat in the 1950s, being caught in the maelstrom of the seething harbingers of the pending war – my granny always stood tall, was always optimistic and full of strength. She was the source of survival, the decision-maker, the heart of our family.  My most vivid memories of her were the moments when she held me in her arms. She would then call me by the name she had chosen just for me: MUKARUHOGO. My granny died when I was five years old.

A few years after she died there was a moment were my father’s sister – my aunt – looked at me for a long time and then said: “You’re the one in our family who closest resembles your grandmother in character and appearance. You carry the strength and dignity in you to continue the legacy of your father’s mother“. On this day in the 80s in Burundi, J. Benigne MBARUBUKEYE once and for all changed to JEANNE B. MUKARUHOGO. And so today I do not only have the strength of ten male names but above all I carry my grandmother’s legacy in me. And sometimes when I travel across Africa, when I speak to friends of SOS Children’s Villages, when I occasionally glance into the mirror in a school after holding a presentation – I see her face more and more. She seems proud and touched. Because we all grow from the roots of our ancestors’ wishes, dreams and stories.

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