Here, they call a rose 'Rose'

My mother was horrified when we named our kitten Jezebel. She thinks kittens should have cozy names like Ginger or Samantha. Why name a kitten – a tomcat, at that – after a wicked Old Testament woman who killed the prophets of the Lord, she wanted to know.

But Jezebel is a Zimbabwean kitten, a golden-eyed tabby rescued from the wild shores of Lake Kariba. And naming something or someone in Zimbabwe isn't quite the same as it is in England, where Mum lives.

For one thing, it's much simpler. You don't have to coyly name your little girl Sarah and tell her when she grows up that it means "princess." Here, I've learned since my arrival last year, you can come right out and name your baby Princess.

Instead of Ruth, you can call your daughter Beauty – plain and simple. Or Pretty. Or Happiness. These are all common names here, as a glance through the births and weddings column in the two national dailies will confirm.

English is still the official language in this country, and many parents choose English names above the main local Shona and Ndebele languages. While some favor Western names like Margaret and Sam, others call their children exactly what they think of them.

Little Divine is one of the top contestants in the Baby of the Year competition that's currently running. Innocent and Blessing are common choices. So is Moreblessing. Gift needs no explanation.

It's a refreshing alternative to the fanciful search for fashionable names that I knew back in Europe. Names like these proclaim Zimbabwean parents' joy in their babies – a pride they see no point in camouflaging, Western-style.

Sometimes in their blunt honesty, however, parents' choices hint at stories – of pain and disappointment, perhaps, but in other cases of fun and laughter. What was that mother thinking of when, 20 or so years ago, she named the beribboned bride on last Saturday's wedding page Moderate?

Why pick the name Givemore? And what happened for that political candidate for the ruling party to be given the first name Phone?

How far do these names shape their bearers' lives, I wonder. Soul might be a great name for an enthusiastic sports commentator, but just how effective is Kindness going to be as a sharp-nosed investigative newspaper reporter?

How stern is that police inspector named Smile from the country's second city of Bulawayo? And did the fact that he'd been named Lovemore push that correspondent to advise people to use dating agencies in last week's Herald newspaper?

What about the successful local businessman named Strive? Did his mother mean to bless him with a combative streak when she picked that name for him, like the mothers who, clearly hoping for intelligent sons, name their babies Bright?

There's a flip side: First names like Hatred and Jealousy crop up from time to time. These, I'm told, come from a different tradition – a belief in revengeful spirits who will pick on people much-loved. In older Shona circles, people were reluctant to mention the name of any member of the family – dead or alive – for fear of bewitchment. So parents might pick bitter names in a bid to play down bonds of affection in order to ward off evil.

Disapproving of our kitty's far-from-fluffy namesake, Mum refuses to call Jezebel by his real name. She calls him Jezzie.

But we know why we picked that name. He's to be a slaughtering fiend to the rats who nightly gnaw my precious bars of hand soap, but a friendly, purring tabby to us and those we love.

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