Academic journal article Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies

Emancipatory Discourse in the Names of Children of the Present Generation: Some Attempts of Balancing Power Relations with Special Reference to Tshivenda Naming practices/Bevrydingsdiskoers in Die Name Van Die Kinders Van Die Huidige Geslag: 'N Paar Pogings Om Magsverhoudings Te Balanseer Met Spesiale Verwysing Na Tshivenda Naamgewings Praktyke

Academic journal article Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies

Emancipatory Discourse in the Names of Children of the Present Generation: Some Attempts of Balancing Power Relations with Special Reference to Tshivenda Naming practices/Bevrydingsdiskoers in Die Name Van Die Kinders Van Die Huidige Geslag: 'N Paar Pogings Om Magsverhoudings Te Balanseer Met Spesiale Verwysing Na Tshivenda Naamgewings Praktyke

Article excerpt

Introduction

This article intends to look into the problem of power relations that present themselves when children are named by either elders or their parents. It focuses on names as interactional discourse that participants use to speak to each other through the names that are given to new-born babies. African tradition accords the elders the right to name children, but their parents feel that they are directly and indirectly being dictated to and, in turn, would like to use the same process to respond to this. This, therefore, makes names a site of a power struggle between the elders and the younger generation.

Every human being, as well as any object, is associated with a name. Names appear to be small, condensed and seemingly nominal or even predicative elements, and are seen to be very common (Sengani 2008). Amongst the Vhavenda, names are not only created to identify their bearers, but are also used to communicate valuable information between the name-givers and their addressees. In other words, the Vhavenda create names by looking at their own environment, history, socio-cultural contexts, religion and economy, and then source from their linguistic and cultural knowledge, rules and principles to encode these factors. It is for this reason that whenever a name is created, a discourse that reflects what is observed or experienced is constructed. Foucault (1972:42) defines discourse as 'practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak'. In other words, names may, in terms of structure, appear as linguistic forms, but 'they are social and ideological practices which can govern the ways in which people think, speak, interact, write and behave' as Litosseliti (2010:120) sees it. This, also, is the reason why Fairclough (1989:17) sees discourse as a social practice.

In many communities, naming children has always been the prerogative of the elders (Arno 1994:25). This is because they are seen to have the knowledge and skill to create or record history. As the appointed custodians of culture and heritage, they remind people of events that took place in the past and in the present, and also project into the future. Amongst the Vhavenda, most names encode their history, culture and heritage. According to Tonkin (1965), names are seen as personal facts that express aspirations as well as social and organisational control.

Background

The set-up in African communities, which includes the Vhavenda, is that when a young man is married, he and his new family, as well as his extended family, will live within the same homestead for some time. The head of the family is his father, but the running of the household is the responsibility of his mother. This being the case, she is the one who gives the womenfolk responsibilities. In most cases, mothers-in-law control the finances, groceries and the distribution of duties. They are the ones who decide on marriage issues and attend to cases where there are no children (Blacking 1964:18-19; Stayt 1931:1988-1989). Whenever there are disagreements with their daughters-in-law or sons, the elders can use naming as a channel to respond to them if they feel that they had been undermined. The names would comment on the relationships between people within the family or extended family.

In African traditions, as amongst the Vhavenda, a child belongs to the community, and as such, his or her name is given to reflect issues within such a community (Arno 1994). For this reason, according to Akinnaso (1980:279-280), the names tend to relate to the environment, history, politics, economy and events within the community. Traditionally, children are named by specific people only, such as the elders or medicine men or women and grandmothers. They are regarded as having the social power and capacity to impose constraints on the younger people's behaviour and thoughts to subject them to the elders. These customs are not violently or overtly imposed, but are legitimised through proverbial sayings which are grounded in the authorial language of the elders. …

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