Letter from Ethiopia #3

By Dandew Serbello - July 23, 2001

Dear Readers,

Letter from Ethiopia #3 is here for you. I have enjoyed the compliments and positive encouragements some of you have taken pains to offer me. Thank you. I hope you would keep sending suggestions and inquiries. One of my readers has asked me the meaning of my pen name, Dandew Serbello. Well, there are certain things I would like to raise in relation to names in the Ethiopian context in general which might benefit foreigners as wells. 

If an Ethiopian going to a foreign land has to write his full name, he will first write his name, then his fatherís name and his grandfatherís name if need be. First names, surnames, middle names, family names and all that are rather baffling. It is like Abraham begat Isaac who begat Jacob.  In ascending order the two gentlemen are named, Jacob Isaac and Isaac Abraham respectively.  As simple as that.  However much family affinities are tight in Ethiopia peopleís names stand by themselves, the first one denotes the subject while the second denotes the father.

Some names give a clue of ethnic identity. Gabre Michael  (pronounced Gerenchel ) is a Tigrian name as much as Feyissa is Oromo. Zeberga is a Gurage while Kissho would be from Sidamo. Like any other country names in Ethiopia are gender friendly. Abebe is an Amhara male while Abebech is a female of the same Ethnic group. This of course does not mean that names are strictly ethnic. The contemporary generation be it an Oromo or Gurage or any other ethnic group that identifies himself more with Ethiopians, prefers to christen his or her child in any way he or she likes so long as the word gives the desired meaning. There are rural names and urban names so to speak.

When a young lady named Asselefech goes to town, She takes the name Lucy or Liz. She may think her rural name is awkward and perhaps backward. These fake names have caused a lot of problems to our sisters particularly those who try to migrate to the Middle East in search of jobs. Zerfeshiwal, who came from some place in the north, took the name Zefii, while in Addis and Zen on her passport to Jeddah.  When a roll call was conducted at the Immigration office there was no one replying. The adapted name had not gone in yet. She had to pay for dearly.  At another incident a lady who died abroad under a fake name could not be identified by anybody and all her personal possessions could not be bequeathed.

There are incidental names in some parts of Ethiopia. If something happens or takes place at the time of birth of a child, a name will be given to the child indicating the incident. Thus these days we hear names like Tanku, Bombu, and Toru indicating that these were born at the time when heavy fighting was going on between the Dergue forces and the rebels in that proximity and heavy artillery was passing by. In some areas the newly born take the name of the guest who happens to drop by at the time of the delivery. A married woman adds her husbands name according to the Western customs. This is not the case in Ethiopia. A lady remains the daughter of the man who fathered her not who married her. One can say a lot about names in the Ethiopian context.

As for the pen name Dan dew Serbello I took it as a pen name some three decades ago for fear of being rounded for my rather critical articles which were published or read out through the public media. Dan dew was adapted from a translation play by the late renowned playwright Mengistu Lemma: Dandew Chebudie. He liked my part, Dandew, which I had played on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Ethiopian Board of Telecommunications, as it was then known. The Serbello part was taken from an old man who had done me wrong during my childhood rubbing my arm against the barbed wire for an offence I hadnít committed. I cannot forget that one for I still carry the scar on my left arm. The offence was simply trespassing property to collect rolling balls. I was standing by and watching the bigger boys play football when he called me and asked me to give him a rock he was intending to hammer down a nail. This was a cover up. As soon as he caught hold of my arm while he was inside the fence, he started rubbing it against the thorns of the barbed wire to my surprise and astonishment. I was then only ten. I cannot forget that one.

Dear friend, I could have told you the meaning of my name and stop there, but I thought I would take the opportunity to say something about naming people in this part of the world. Bye for now.

Dan dew Serbello from Sidist Killo

Copyright @2001-2004

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