The study of names is known in linguistics as onomastics. The study of place names is toponomastics or toponymy. We have barely scratched the surface on this field of language and social study. Botswana doesn’t have an onomastician. Our only hope seems to lie in Goabilwe Ramaeba who is reading for a doctorate on anthroponomastics (the study of personal names) in Scotland, who upon completion will be the nation’s only anthroponomastician!
I was delighted to hear that the Gaborone City Council has accepted the proposed name change from Ditimamodimo to Peolwane. For many months now since the name for Block 7 was announced, it has faced sustained rejection and commentary of all sorts. I gather that the Block 7 name Ditimamodimo is given after a kgotla in Serowe bearing the same name. Robert Molefhabangwe offers some very useful insight on the name:
Ditimamodimo tsa ga Nkwane-a-Kgari: Ke kgotla ya baletlanyi, batshereganyi le batimi ba molelo wa kgotlhang fa gare ga morafe, ampo fa gare ga kgosi le morafe. Ke kgotla e e timang chakgalo ya kgosi (Modimo), lefoko ”modimo” fa le raya kgosi, fela jaaka ”ndzimu” mo seaneng sa Sekalaka se se reng, ”Ndzimu wengong’wa unopiwa nkadzi anamimba”, go sa tewe modimo o o moopa, mme go tewa kgosi e e sa tsholeng. Ke tlhatlharuane fela e e bakwang ke gore go ithewa go twe go supswa sengwe, se se seyong. Mafoko a mantsi le maina a mantsi le mo puong tse dintsi a a tlhokang kutlwisiso pele ga bogalaka ja kgalo ya one; sekai, ga go kgakala re utlwa go kgalwa leina ”Gaylord”, go twe le raya ‘Morena wa Matanyola”, ntswa lone le raya ” a happy lord”
Molefhabangwe is right. However the point here is that the residents of Block 7 don’t identify with a kgotla in Serowe. Additionally, the use of the word “modimo” to mean a kgosi is obsolete and or archaic. Without the etymology of the Serowe kgotla name, their only available semantics of “modimo” is the current one which means “God”. With many individuals having rather strong Christian beliefs, the name Ditimamodimo was perceived as a bad omen and gravely sacrilegious. This is especially so in the current atmosphere where there is a rise in satanism in Botswana in the last five years. Many negative connections were made with the name. That is why many argued for its change. They argued and lobbied and they were successful. Ditimamodimo was replaced by Peolwane (a swallow). Amongst the Batswana a peolwane is a good bird. It is a signal of impending rain. And rain symbolises life, farming, harvest, progress, happiness, newbirth and all things positive.
The fact that an area in Botswana has lobbied for a name change and succeeded is unprecedented. The 1981 Botswana standard orthography (p.19) recommended the following spelling changes which were never implemented:
- Motshodi, not Mochudi
- Maung, not Maun
- Phalatšwe, not Palapye
- Ngotwane not Notwane
- Khunwana not Kunana
A more progressive system of name change is to be found in South Africa where politics of identity are topical, especially on how place names assert and cement a people’s identity.
- “Jan Smuts International Airport” has changed to “Johannesburg International Airport” then later to “O. R. Tambo International Airport”
- Mafeking was changed to Mafikeng then lately to Mahikeng.
- Pietersburg was changed to Polokwane
- Potgietersrus was changed to Mokopane
- Stanger was changed to KwaDukuza
There is nothing mythical about naming a place. People name places. They name them to reflect their beliefs, history, aspirations and culture. They name them after hills, rivers, heroes (and rarely villains), leaders, famous stories, events etc. Batswana need to be courageous in taking and dominating spaces. They have to erect their own statues and give spaces their own meaningful names. They should not be afraid to change names which are meaningless to them and replace them with names of significance to their beliefs, history and culture. This in effect means place naming will remain contested. I therefore find the name change from Ditimamodimo to Peolwane a most welcome citizen engagement in taking and dominating spaces in which they reside.
Picture from: http://www.rspb.org.uk/community/ourwork/default.aspx