Practices of naming and the possibilities of home on American Zulu mission stations in Colonial Natal.
Healy, Meghan Elisabeth.
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From the 1840s, the American Zulu Mission (AZM) in Natal included a number of converts who took on Christian names after missionaries within the circle of the AZM, and after those missionaries’ American friends and relations. This article emphasises an issue that has been secondary in scholarship on naming as a tool of colonial control and redesignation: the responses to and uses of such names by those who bore them. We address this issue through an examination of two prominent lineages: the Goba/Hawes and Nembula/Makhanya families on American mission stations north and south of Durban. Our findings suggest that the results of missionaries’ exertions of power through renamings were uneven: that pre-baptismal names resurfaced as a means of laying claim to or invoking particular identities and pasts; that baptismal names, or parts of them, could be mobilised or rejected over time according to different needs; and that attention to names may help to track these dynamics over time. We make use of the sociolinguistic understanding of names as “labels” (terms without semantic content) or as “pointers” (names pointing to, for instance, the circumstances of a person's birth) and adapt these categories: suggesting while scholars have seen baptismal names essentially as colonising labels, in the cases we explore, both baptismal and pre-baptismal names have served also as pointers—gesturing towards unstable pasts and futures.
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