A Shared Name

A good name is more desirable than great riches;
to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.

(Proverbs 22:1)

Our first-born was carefully named, loved and cherished. There were family links with the name: Catherine Ann. She was barely two when our second child was born. He was named Alan John. Within 24 hours of birth we realised that all was not well, and although immediately loved and well cared for by those who attended him, five days later he was buried in the mission cemetery at Chikankata. It was a devastating experience for us. Another five years were to pass before we could rejoice in the birth of our third child. The names we gave him once again had family links: André Mark.

But that was out of keeping with the ancient tradition of the people with whom we lived and worked. When a child is born after the death of an infant who has not cut the first tooth, the Tonga custom is that the child is given the name 'Cheelo'. This means ghost. Apparently the thought was that if that child also dies, the parents are told it was only a ghost, and the sense of grief might be reduced. A cheelo also becomes the object of joking and teasing. Fortunately André survived and there was great rejoicing all round. Even the women of the congregation attached to the leprosarium took delight in holding him in their arms, dancing round singing: 'Our Cheelo!'

A few days after André was born I met headman, Charlie Chikankata as he wandered through the hospital. He stopped to ask me about our newly-born son, concluding with the question: 'What's his name?'  

I replied: 'Well by your custom he shouldn't have a name - he's just 'Cheelo'. 

Charlie responded like a shot: 'O, don't follow any of our old customs. Give him a name. And if you can't think of one, give him mine! It's 'Kanankamana,' he told me. And then with a twinkle in his eye explained it's meaning: 'the one who stands tall and gives orders to others.'

That name is not on his birth certificate, but the news spread quickly. In the local area our son was called 'Kanankamana'. Four decades later André smiles about it. He doesn't seem to mind the name. 

When Charlie died they would not proceed with the funeral until two-year-old André was brought to the village. The name had bound them together, if only in the minds of the local people. 

Some of us are given nicknames. I've had a few in my lifetime. And there are endearments we acquire. They all add to our sense of identity and well-being. And for many of us, as people of faith, we claim, or are given the label: Christian. 

It's an extra name of which we should be proud. It's a name that is both good and desirable.