Old Possum’s guide to SA place names
Xhosa names that foreigners can’t pronounce could add some tourist lustre to our dorps
There are bigger things to worry about right now, such as how to get your 90-year-old chain-smoking granny’s name on a coronavirus vaccine list, but Lord knows we need diversions after a sad and grinding year that may grind on into another sad year.
Hence the teacup hurricane over the name changes to sundry Eastern Cape towns, cities and airports. Leave aside the idea that some insider is going to get rich making signage pointing to Gqeberha, Kariega and Qonce and consider that cities, like cats, need at least three names.
TS Eliot might even have written a poem about it:
"The Naming of Cities is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you a City must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as PE, eMonti or old Uitenhage …"
Eliot goes on to note that cities, like cats, also have a name "that’s particular", that gives them their pride, along with a third name that only the city itself knows.
Could it be that a name like Gqeberha or Chief Dawid Stuurman International Airport — the new moniker for the Windy City’s airport — might add a bit of lustre to these places? After all, the airport really needs all the help it can get.
How about Nqanqarhu or Ntabozuko? If you’ve been to Maclear or Berlin lately, you will know they, too, could use a little magic.
Perhaps the name changes will alter nothing. But if I was a would-be tourist sitting in lockdown in Manchester and googling places I’d like to go when the pandemic is over, I’d have to say a place that takes its tongue-twisting Xhosa name from the river that flows through it would be near the top of the list.
(With apologies to TS Eliot.)
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