Onomastics in Interaction With Other Branches of Science. Volume 2.

Semantic Typologies of Lexically Transparent Setswana Personal Names

Goabilwe Nnanishie Ramaeba
University of Botswana


African personal names, particularly those in Sub-Sahara, are generally motivated by external forces like the circumstances surrounding the family at the time of the pregnancy or the birth of the child. Consequently, these names are often lexically transparent as they derive from the vocabulary of the language, as well as the culture and traditions of the societies they exist in. Sub-Saharan naming practices therefore have a distinctive pattern because they reflect their societies, an observation made by Bangeni and Coetser (2000) regarding Xhosa names. Naming in these societies, including that of Botswana, is a well-structured process with the names deriving from semantic categories that are influenced by the local traditions. This article examines the meanings and motivations behind Setswana’s lexically transparent names. The data for this paper comes from a PhD study, which analysed 1,995 Botswana names and categorized them into 19 semantic categories. Six of these categories which have proven to be the most common in the data are outlined and discussed: situational names, which derive from events and situations around the pregnancy and the birth of the child, symbolic names and the names which derive from names of common objects of symbolic meaning, activity names, God-related names, occupation and position in society names, and virtue names. This analysis indicates that Setswana names are a direct reflection of the culture, traditions, and the overall structure of their communities.

Botswana, Setswana, personal names, lexically transparent, semantic categories

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