What’s in a name?

I have been going to the gym since late Jan and these are the results:

While there I met a guy; interesting one actually! It was my first time at the gym and since he had joined only a week after me, also for his first time, we were naturally paired as gym partners. Other than his francophone accent and undeniable novelty to the scene, his unapologetic social skills made him pop out of the background of gym rats.

Now I am not an easy guy to like at first. My twisted sense of humor and ignorance of many things common leaves many offended and altogether put off. But on the first day we met, Jacques had already introduced himself to me by name and we made plans to work out together the next day.

In an English context, this is not in any way unusual. In fact, the first statement I make after the usual “hallo” to an English man would be “I am (followed by my name).” And the English man would take this as a cue to introduce himself as well. In a formal Ugandan context, this again is not unusual. The Ugandan man would quickly introduce himself to the other Ugandan man followed by their title in the establishment as if to say, this is where I lie on the scream pyramid (The bro code, Barney Stinson). But in a Ugandan social setting, Jacques’ behavior is very unusual.

To illustrate just how unusual what Jacques did was, I will tell of a scenario that happened the next day at the gym. There were these two dudes, both seasoned gym goers and old time subscribers to this gym. Given their nearly comparable progress in weight lifting, they were naturally paired. Before they begun doing their sets, the one clad in blue jeans was helping out a few novices at one end of the gym. The other, a little older and bigger, was setting up the weights for their sets at the bench. He didn’t know which weight his partner wanted to start with so he looked around for him only to notice that he was at the other end though in ear shot. To get his partner’s attention, the older dude called out, “Blue jeans!”

Blue jeans! Was that an inside joke or was it directly derivative of the fact that he was wearing blue jeans that day? We have been going to the same gym for however long and partnered doing sets a few times and all you can master from your memory of me is the fact that I am wearing blue jeans today!

So that is the way of Ugandan men. We had exchanged a few pleasantries with Blue Jeans actually but never thought to exchange names so I couldn’t help out the older dude either. It seems to me that the right to know another man’s name is actually earned. In fact, you may come off as rude if you plainly asked another man, “What’s your name?” I’ve come to learn many guys’ names at the gym over time by hearing other people call out to them. Then finally, I’d give it a try and see if they respond. If they do, introductions have been made.

It is frustrating really but maybe it has it’s perks. When I first meet a person and straight away ask for their name, chances are that I will not remember it a minute later. Because what’s in a name, really? Especially when it is an Arabic name. Very few Arabic names are used very many times. Like I have lost count of how many people I know that are called Ibra (Ibrahim) and Meddy (Mohammed). So if you told me you were called Meddy within the first few seconds of meeting you, there better be no other Meddy at the Party. But when Meddy tells me about his trip to Mecca or his business in Kikuubo, he becomes the Meddy that went to Mecca or owns a liquor store in Kikuubo. The name sticks better because it has gained meaning to me.

I had a friend who had a friend that became my friend. For a long time we were friends, talking about life and such, I didn’t know his name. And we’d been properly introduced! My friend was like, meet my other friend Okwalinga and Okwalinga, meet my other friend Voltaire. Then time passed, my friend and I were no longer friends and I never met them together again. But I met Okwalinga and we sort of picked up from where we’d left off and there wasn’t much need to say each other’s names. After a while, it became awkward to ask him what he’s name was because we had come a long way from introductions and it seemed rather offensive. So I waited until I met another mutual friend and asked him, “Man, that dude that we were talking to, what’s his name?”

I think this is why we are not so quick to say our names when we meet, we are waiting for mutual interest to develop so that we may value each other’s identity enough to refer it to memory. But in the Blue Jeans scenario above, I think we often wait too long. Blue Jeans, really? Whereas relationships seem to go on fine with such, I can’t help the feeling that they are stifled by the same. No wonder we part with such statements as “We shall meet,” or “Catch you later,” with no clear commitment to a date, time and place to meet or catch up. No wonder many relationships are shallow and too often centered around talk of politics, football and women. Maybe not knowing your gym partner’s name is a sign of a genuine lack of interest in the issues that pertain to him.

Featured Image: Brock Lesnar, Wrestler. Image from here


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