Don't change your name, change your attitudes

Last week, I wrote about why we always end up sending more officials than athletes to events like the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I narrowed it down to our failure to see sports as a business investment that needs to be taken a lot more seriously.

Last week, I wrote about why we always end up sending more officials than athletes to events like the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I narrowed it down to our failure to see sports as a business investment that needs to be taken a lot more seriously.

Inculcating a mindset of sports as business/career can also go a long way in solving our employment problems since it is a whole industry that needs sportspeople, trainers, doctors, managers, and so many others.

 

There is this common tale of our former sports heroes living in squalor after years of dedicated service to their country. This keeps recurring mainly because they and (we in general) never managed their careers properly. 

 

Yes the former Olympian may not have saved enough of their earnings but how many local companies thought of using his or her face on billboards instead of using anonymous light skinned ladies?

 

There has been a huge debate in Kenya after ‘former Kenyans’ beat Kenyans for medals at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. The most famous one being Bahrain’s Ruth Jebet who won gold in the 3000m steeplechase. Kenyans were obviously not so happy that they had to come second in a race they think should even be named after one of their own.  

Her patriotism was questioned as though it is something that she could have used to pay for herself in school or build her parents a decent home. Athletics is a career just like being an accountant or a doctor and one is free to go out and practice it where they want. Other athletes, especially those featuring for Turkey, even changed their names so you can’t trace their Kenyan-ness by looking at the medal table.  

The moral of the story is that if we are not taking good care of our talented athletes we shall keep losing them to those countries that want them more. And there is nothing new here given that we have witnessed years of brain drain for the same reasons. And it is not that we cannot afford to keep them we often fail the basic minimums and this kills all sense of patriotism left.

But the athletes who changed their names to run for Turkey reminded me of another debate around names and Pan-Africanism. There is an interesting debate going on in the Rwandan social media spheres concerning names. It was sparked off by a talk moderated by a one Gatete who prefers that we ignore his other names because they are not Rwandan and he plans to change them.  

The debate has people split with some arguing that we should drop all the ‘colonial/Christian’ names and replace them with Rwandan or African names. Others who are obviously very Christian prefer that we continue with our names because after all a name doesn’t automatically mean one espouses African values or not. Those with this argument even have Nelson Mandela as an example.

Personally I think names are symbols of identity and carry a story. They place you when mentioned. We can almost place anyone to a community, clan, country or region when we hear their name. The problem with the so called Christian names is that many of them don’t even place you into a Christian grouping. When I am asked my name I like to say Ssenyonga because I know that is a much better story than when I say Allan. I also know that Allan is clearly part of my identity by now even though it has no significant story behind it.

This is where I think we can find a compromise and, say, instead of being radical and changing all our names, we can simply give our children much better names with better stories and significance. However for this to happen we need to change our attitudes and learn that one does not need a Western-sounding name to be Christian.

These are colonial attitudes that we don’t need any more.  

Essentially a name represents identity and we can all chose how we want to be identified. One of the key lessons I learnt from my university lecturer was that you should never misspell a person’s name because that amounts to changing their identity. He always said if you are not sure, ask the person to write or spell the name for you. 

It sounds like a simple lesson but it can go a long way in engendering a culture of paying attention to details, which is a very good thing if you ask me.

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