Names are revealing. Take mine: Andrew. In the States, it consistently ranks as one of the top 10 baby boy names every year. In the Land of Bibles and Saints, it conjures up the twelve disciples and stories of fish. And in Uganda, it is a name easy to understand if and only if said in the British way. Awwwndrew…as if coming out after one big yawn. Whenever greeting people (many of whom have little to no mastery of English), I look like the one learning my name (and English) for the first time. Gone is the familiar short “a” at the beginning of the name I have grounded into my center for twenty years. Instead, I am left with an awkward introduction of broken English (usually on my account) and weak translation (again, my bad).
Even when I am not stammering out Awwwndrew, the issue of my name is hardly at rest. There’s my Ugandan name: Bwire. But the fact that I can’t quite link the “b” and the “w” together pretty much leads to confusion of Awwwndrew proportions. The only name that I have even begun to master really isn’t mine at all. Or at least mine alone. Mzungu. The Ugandan word for “white person” or “foreigner.” It is the name the local kids call out whenever I walk into Busia town, take out my camera for a “snap,” or pass by in a matatu on any and every dusty Ugandan road.
Of course, names aren’t just the nuts and bolts of greetings. They are the windows into personalities, gateways into relationships, and trapdoors hiding emotional worlds. My name – Awwwndrew Bwire Mzungu Daub – means much more than the baby name dictionary’s definition of “strong” and “manly.” It carries more weight than any baby name book or Bible. Here in Uganda, it means answers. Help. Hope.
Uganda is a wonderful country. A land of perpetual friendliness with the charm and inner workings of a truly Southern town. Sweetened but not iced, tea has its time here. Rocking chairs and porches though rare, people sit outside looking at passerby. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone’s business is hung out to dry along with the day’s washing. But Uganda is also a country stuck. Stuck, stuck, stuck. Many things fall here. The schilling to the dollar. The livestock and crops to disease. The people to fatal epidemics. The nation to terrorizing, paralyzing Western clutches.
So there is reason to have answers. To help and to hope. And there is sense behind why a name like Awwwndrew Bwire Mzungu Daub is instantly attractive. It is a Godsend for some, a sense of relief for many. And though humbling it is to have people rush to my side and treat me with such genuine admiration, there is considerable expectation. And pressure. With a name carrying so much possibility, there also comes the heavy baggage of producing this answer, that answer, some help, such glowing hope. That baggage becomes even more overwhelming when all that rushes through my head is an I-don’t-know-where-to-even-begin stream of consciousness. How do I grapple with such demanding responsibility, responsibility that came into my lap when I – however poorly – uttered my name?
Yes, names are revealing. But they do not just expose the person inside. They open up questions, fears, and harsh todays. They imply solutions and better tomorrows. However, no band-aid, no recovery, and no future can rest in just a name. Answers, help, and hope are too complicated of recipes for a name to be the sole ingredient. I don’t know where to begin and that is the only beginning I know. It is the only way I can move beyond my struggles to get Awwwndrew Bwire Mzungu Daub out of my mouth. The only way to then build and build the living-breathing-feeling search for answers, help, and hope. The only way to keep my Ugandan conversations flowing.