THE story goes like this. There are two guys who go by the same name of MacDonald.
One live on the Copperbelt while the other lives in Lusaka. One is a lawyer and the other is a career politician (sort of). One of them makes rash political statements that the other feels are embarrassing to his family, friends and work associates.
What is even more problematic is that the media doesn’t seem to differentiate between these two gentlemen.
After a few years of trying to make sense of this confusion, one of them decides to abandon the first name of “MacDonald” to assume the new name of “Lusenga”. One of the reasons gave for abandoning the name “MacDonald” was that he could not just take the embarrassment anymore.
And so he decided to leave the name with his namesake and take on a fresh identity.
MacDonald, the lawyer, will no longer go by MacDonald but by Lusenga. This whole episode made me think and rethink the impact of names on personal identity, human psychology and political circumstance.
The issue with the two MacDonalds really border on who among them feels more entitled to the name than the other.
How did we as humans learn to love or dislike our names? Who is more entitled to the use of our names?
These are difficult questions, but questions that we must attempt to answer in our desire to make sense of our humanity.
When it comes to feelings of entitlement to an identity, it does appear like Lusenga really believed for some reason that his former namesake “MacDonald” owed him a duty to be reasonable.
He probably felt that his name should be associated only with stuff he believed was consistent with his personality.
Indeed quite interestingly, it appears the lawyer Lusenga had a reputation to protect, which he could only do by abandoning the desecrated name.
A question should be asked, who really is entitled to the reputation of a name like “MacDonal” among competing holders? This also reminds me of my own situation. For several years, I had believed in the exceptionalism of the name: Elias Munshya.
I just could not imagine that someone could be out there who has the exact same name combination. It came rather as a huge surprise when I discovered that there is another Elias Munshya.
He is much younger than I am and went to Chikola High School while I went to Chingola High School.
My younger namesake is a graduate of the University of Zambia, and from all accounts, he does seem to be a young man of sober manners. He is Swaka of Mkushi while I am from Milenge.
I am not concerned at all that his behaviour might cause me to do what Bo Lusenga has done.
I am sure though that probably some of my outspokenness, both political or otherwise, may have led the younger Elias Munshya to consider changing his name.
Again, this debate really hinges on the question of who exactly has more entitlement to the use of the name “Elias Munshya” or to any name for that matter.
Somehow, most of us with rare name combinations feel like we are entitled to our names more than others. But this is definitely not true for countless James Bandas or John Mulengas out there.
I can’t just imagine how many James Phiris exist in this part of the world. If all the James Phiris had to change their names, it would literally throw our nation into a serious identity crisis and our newspapers would not be enough to print all the deeds of change of names.
I am left wondering whether Bo Lusenga could have gone ahead to feel entitled to “MacDonald” had his name been a more common combination of labels such as “James Phiri” or “John Mulenga”.
There is no doubting that names by which we go by have a huge psychological impact on our personality and identity.
Somehow, the whole reason why we have the name is so that we could be differentiated from the other.
Without a name, human identity would be in jeopardy. But beyond that, names are significant for social reasons. They help us make a statement about ourselves, or indeed about our parents and our culture. To differentiate themselves from another person with similar names, some of our citizens choose a middle name.
And so a common name such as “John Mulenga” could make use of a middle name to differentiate one John from another.
Middle names have worked very well in Zambian politics. Except for Hakainde Hichilema (a unique combination of names), all the other ten presidential contestants had a third or fourth name.
I have heard some jokes that HH should adopt a middle name for him to be competitive in the next elections. Strangely, all of the six presidents had a third or fourth name.
The most curious of the presidential names is that of the second president who governed as Frederick Jacob Titus Chiluba. He would be heard constantly correcting the media to put Jacob before Titus so as to have FJT initials and not FTJ. In spite of this, however, the use of initials FTJ persisted to his chagrin.
The late President Michael Sata surprised many when he gave his names as Michael Charles Katongo Sata.
Mr. Sata in fact had a change in his first name from Charles to Michael while he served as governor of Lusaka.
The popular “C”, in his initials of “M.C. Sata” could as well stand for Charles and not Chilufya as popularly assumed. Kenneth Kaunda, was born “Buchizya”.
He nevertheless assumed his father’s first name as a middle name and became Kenneth David Kaunda. In the Old Testament, Isaac’s son Jacob had his name changed to Israel. In the New Testament, Saul also had a change of name.
Ironically though, in spite of Jacob’s change of name to Israel, the Bible continually refers to the God of Abraham, Isaac and “Jacob”.
There is authority that Jacob actually means “deceiver”. It is quite redemptive that God would refer himself as the God of a deceiver.
After all is said and done, it appears that all that may really matter about our identity is whether we have lived to fulfill God’s will for our lives whether we go by the name of “Jacob” or “Israel”.
The politics of names will continue to intrigue us. For now, I wish the new Lusenga all the best in his new name.
As for MacDonald he can now go ahead and use his name without having to fear about its impact on the risk averse lawyer living a few hundreds kilometers away.