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How “zanga” is Changed into a Traditional Zambian Name

ColumnsHow “zanga” is Changed into a Traditional Zambian Name

By Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D Emeritus Professor of Sociology

In the Tumbuka Bantu language, zanga is a verb which translates or means “come”. Tumbuka speakers conjugate this verb and use it in so many ways to convey different meanings among the speakers. For example, by adding the word “kuno”, the verb “zanga” can be conjugated to say, for example, “zanga kuno” translating as “come here”.

In the Tumbuka Bantu language, kwiza is another verb which translates or means “to come”. Tumbuka speakers conjugate this verb and used in so many ways to convey different meanings among the Tumbuka speakers. For example, by adding the sounds or phonemes “n” and “h” the verb “kwiza” can be conjugated to say, for example, “nkhwiza namacero” translating as “I am coming tomorrow”.

“zenge” is a conjugation of the verb “zanga” such that “Vizenge”, “Mwizenge”, “Yizenge” have slightly different meanings but also share one common theme but also share many meanings at the same time. This is true for all languages in that one word can have multiple meanings some of the meanings being deeper. “zenge” is a conjugation of “zanga” and to a certain extent “kwiza” such that “Vizenge” translates as “they will come”, “Mwizenge” translates as “you can come”, and “Yizenge” translates as “it will come”.

The prefix “Vi” in Tumbuka means “too many” “too much”. The prefix “Vi” in “Vizenge” means too many bad things are coming your way to hurt, assault, or disturb your life. The name implies that you will be ready, have strengthened, or steeled yourself to face these big or many big troubles, challenges, evils that life might throw at the baby, child, you or the adult who bears the name.

The prefix “Mwi” in Tumbuka means “many people” “all people”. The prefix “Mwi” may also be derived from the Tumbuka noun “chimwemwe” which translates as “smile”. The pronoun or name “Mwizenge” translates as “you can come” “you are all welcome”. This name expresses the expectation that the baby, the child, or adult who has the name will welcome or embrace everybody in their future life. Since I chose my name “Mwizenge” as an adult, I wanted my name to reflect that I will warmly welcome everybody in my life as people come along.

The prefix “Yi” in Tumbuka means “it”. The pronoun or name “Yizenge” translates as “it can come” “it can come I am ready to face it.” The “it” in traditional Tumbuka culture according to the research I conducted might be “hunger”, “famine”, and especially “death”. The parents who gave this name to their baby, child, or even an adult who chooses this name for themselves might be daring or acknowledging that death or any of life’s deadly problems to happen or will happen. Tumbuka language speakers conjugate the verb “zanga” such that some of its many uses are transformed into pronouns or names which people use. In my research, I found this complex linguistic practice in the creation and use of traditional names to be also common among the Tonga people of the Southern Province of Zambia. This practice may also exist among the 72 tribes of Zambia in the way they choose and use their traditional names.

Our traditional Zambian/African names as forms of identity often reflected soulful, spiritual, and much deeper philosophical meanings. The traditional naming customs also had their own important functions. Many traditional names also served as historical oral archives of family genealogy. This is why I have enjoyed the research fieldwork into Zambian traditional names so much over the last forty years.

In my book: “Zambian Traditional Names” I discuss why Zambians choose particular traditional names for their babies, children, and why adults might choose a particular name for themselves, relatives, or other people. This book is now available in all Book World Bookstores all over Zambia. Another more important book “Encyclopedia of Zambian Names” is available at Pensulo Publishers, bookstores in Zambia, and on Amazon.

Mother Chilldern Edited April 8 2022
Mother Chilldern Edited April 8 2022

6 COMMENTS

  1. My friend’s d dad in Mufulira was known as Zanga. He was a good footballer so I thought it stood for excellence. Thank you for educating me

  2. I hope your book isn’t just about Tumbuka names. Have you examined the connection between Eastern province and North Western province names? Kapatamoyo is one good example. Theres also Muti etc

  3. Ba Polofesa naimwe. Your headline is something else the article something else. It doesntexplain how Zanga is changed into a traditional name as promised.

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