Whats in a name?

Cecil Rhodes is on record as having asked anxiously on his deathbed: "They don't change the names of countries, do they?" He thought he had assured that his name would be on the maps that every child would be taught geography from.

He thought he had achieved a sort of immortality. His name would be recited in countless classrooms, throughout the British Empire on which the sun never set – and even beyond. We know now how immortal that fame was, and how the British Empire died with it. The man sounds quite pathetic now, doesn’t he?

But he’s not the only one who has tried to win himself lasting fame by naming things after himself. We have some still with us. Did you know that three living Zimbabwean politicians have roads named after them in Harare? We can all name one. I knew there was a second, but I only recently discovered the third. If a reader can find more than that, I suppose I ought to ask the editor to provide a small prize for that achievement. But when those guys look at what happened to Cecil Rhodes, they must be worrying whether the same fate awaits them. The one we all know is particularly vulnerable, because he set his ambition so high.

The first rule, if you want your name to live on in those geography books or street maps of our cities, is very simple. Put your name on something people won’t notice. No.2 and no.3 of the Harare trio seem to have done that. Did they realise that what happened to Rhodes happened to Jameson and even to Lord Salisbury, the British Prime Minister who backed the villainous schemes of Rhodes and Jameson?

But nobody bothered to remove the name of Colquhoun, because nobody remembers who he was and very few notice the street with his name on it. Maybe having a name that very few of us, if any, can pronounce or even spell helps. No city councillor wants to suggest in a full council session that we delete “Col[followed by an incoherent gurgle]” from our city maps. Putting his proposal in writing could be almost as embarrassing unless he went along to the street in question and copied the name very carefully.

Our number 2 and no.3 in the present Harare street name stakes have certainly followed the first rule. They suffer the disadvantage that their names are not as difficult to pronounce as “Col[followed by an incoherent gurgle]” or even McChlery. (Who? You might well ask. But don’t ask me. I don’t know.)

No.2 & no.3 may have been wise to put their mark where the really ambitious don’t look because not only future name changes threaten their aspirations to immortality in a street name; some of the people who guard their right to name heroes, streets and cities so jealously might be upset even now. I can’t worry about that, or get excited about obscure names in obscure places. It’s difficult enough to keep memories alive of memorable people recorded in Mbare street names. Watch out for the answers next week.

Post published in: Opinions

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