Personal Name Trends in Independent Zambia: A Reflection on the Fluidity of Living Heritage

  • Chanda Penda Cultural Heritage Studies, Central European University
Keywords: postcolonial, personal names, intangible cultural heritage (ICH), history, onomastics, anthroponyms


Personal name usage in Zambia, as is common elsewhere, has undergone changes – reflecting the overall cultural and historical changes in the nation. This article identifies the changes which took place in personal naming patterns in Zambia since independence and discusses the wider socio-cultural and political factors which caused the changes in personal naming patterns in independent Zambia. The period after independence in 1964 represents a complex of various interacting histories of the nation, which have significantly impacted naming patterns. These include, transitions from mandatory requirement for adherents of the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian organisations to adopt baptismal names of European saints and enforcement, by school authorities, of usage of European first names by indigenous Northern Rhodesians during British colonial domination, to freedom to choose first names following political independence. Further developments include the closer mingling of local tribes/languages, the rise of charismatic churches, and Islam, among others. The methodology includes quantitative text analysis of the publicly available comprehensive University of Zambia (UNZA) graduate directory which contains names of all the institution’s graduates for the fifty-year period from its foundation in 1966 to 2016. This work samples 2504 names extracted from the graduate directory between 1976 and 2016 in ten-year-intervals as follows: 1976, 1986, 1996, 2006 and 2016. The highest institution of learning in Zambia is located in the capital, Lusaka. UNZA students are drawn from multi-ethnic backgrounds, mostly featuring Zambian language groups. The period under consideration includes both people who were born/named before and after independence. Other methods used in the context of the wider thesis were ethnographic field interviews with 23 respondents in Chongwe, Kafue and Lusaka districts, and personal communication with seven others by electronic means. Among the field respondents, four were aged between their mid-60s and 73, while the rest were of varying ages between 20 and 52. The purposive selection criteria for the four elderly participants included age – those who had some experience of life under British colonial rule. The other group was randomly selected, observing balance in gender, socio-economic status and political views. The study confirms an increase in the usage of first names drawn from local languages. Over the study period, usage of indigenous Zambian personal names increased from 7.9 per cent to 31.6 per cent. The study also shows different generic patterns of first name usage among the different ethnic groups.