Me: Ma –aah!
Whenever this exchange took place between my mum and I when I was a kid I was almost always in trouble for something. My name is Tafadzwa. It’s quite ironic that the few times that my mum actually called me by my full first name it was usually because she wasn’t too happy with me or whatever it is I had done. Why is this ironic? Well, glad you asked.
My name is a Shona name that means ‘You’ve made us happy’. And therein lays the irony.
Despite my conditioned response to immediately tense up and fear the worst whenever my mum shouted Tafadzwa across the house I have always loved my name. I love the way it rolls of the tongue when pronounced correctly and I love that it means something. According to my parents my name is a testament to how they felt when I arrived into this world. They were happy. I’m glad they stuck with Shona, because ‘Happy’ as a name just doesn’t have the same panache too it. Tafadzwa on the other hand. So much panache.
When I wasn’t in trouble and my mum was actually happy with me she called me Fafi. So did my baby sister. My dad and brothers called me Tafi. Very few people in my life have consistently called me by my proper first name Tafadzwa. Even those who are Shona like me and would not have any difficulties pronouncing it always seemed to opt for shortened variations of Tafadzwa. That or they called me by one of the many nicknames I went by in primary and high school.
This probably explains why every time anyone consistently makes an effort to call Tafadzwa I fall in love with them a little, especially if they are not Shona and they pronounce it right.
Consider me sprung as soon as my name rolls of your tongue. Mummy issues, perhaps? I don’t even know if that’s even a thing, but I do know that just about all the non Shona speaking women I’ve dated have had this in common. They have all called me Tafadzwa.
Nowadays most people call me Taf. It’s been that way for the last decade or so. Most of the responsibility for that lies between me and the time I lived outside Zimbabwe. It was only during that period that I started introducing myself as Taf. And it has stuck like glue. Even my own family now calls me Taf. It still feels weird being called Taf by my own parents.
Before I started uni I don’t actually remember anyone calling me Taf. Ever. It was Tafi,Taffy Tooth, Fafi, Fadzi or some other variation of my name but never Taf. It was only after I moved to Australia that I started going by Taf. Most Australians were either just too lazy or too intimidated to try and say my name. And most of those brave enough to try pronouncing often strangled all meaning out of it when they did. On my arrival down under and after only a few attempts to introduce myself as Tafadzwa I resigned myself to being Taf. A name with no grace, no meaning, no history and one that doesn’t belong in any language.
I deliberately didn’t introduce myself as Fafi, because that was reserved for my mum and my baby sister thing. They were the only people I allowed to call me Fafi. It was scared in that regard. So why not Tafi?, which until I became Taf was the more popular name I went by. Now that I was in university Tafi all of a sudden felt and sounded too effeminate. Tafadzwa is actually a unisex name and for the first time I felt Tafi was more appropriate for the girls called Tafadzwa. Taf on the other hand sounded more macho and to my 19 year old self this was a no brainer. Taf, it was.
It didn’t help ‘Tafi’s’ case that every time a girl I fancied called me that it was a clear an indicator as any that I had fallen into the mythical black hole that is the friend zone. On the flip side two girls I have dated call me Taf Taf. So nice they have to say it twice.
Anyway back to the chronicles of Tafadzwa.
Even though when I started uni I started going by Taf, some people for reasons best know to themselves still found it cumbersome, and that is how a few people actually ended up calling me Jeff. Of all the things I have been called in my life, this in particular annoyed me the most. Jeff? Really? You can’t say Taf but you can say Jeff.
One nickname I did like though was the one my football coach who happened to be Italian gave me. And it was Teflon. Awesome, right? Unfortunately it didn’t stick. (See what I did there?)
Most of my university professors didn’t even bother with my name. The first day with each knew lecturer plays out the same always.
After calling out a long line of Scott’s, Michael’s, Sarah, Rebecca’s, etc they rest on my name in silence. They squint. They have never seen this combination of letters strung together in this order before. They are incomprehensible. What is the z doing after the d? Maybe it’s a typo.
They smother my name in their mouths. It is a hindrance for their tongues. They hand me papers silently. One of them mumbles it unintelligibly whenever he calls on my hand. Another just calls me “T.”
But like most things in life there is always an exception.
At the start of my second year, I walk into a microbiology class. My lecturer is blond and blue-eyed. Her name is Beth. When she comes to my name on the roll call, she takes the requisite pause.
I hold my breath.
Lecturer: “How do I pronounce your name?”
Me: “Just call me Taf.”
Lecturer: “Is that how it’s pronounced?”
Me: “No one’s ever been able to pronounce it.”
Lecturer: “That’s probably because they didn’t want to try,”“What is your name?”
When I say my name, it feels like redemption. I have never said it this way before. Tafadzwa. She repeats it back to me several times until she gets it. It is difficult for her British tongue. Hers has none of the strength, none of the force of most native Shona speakers. But she gets it, eventually, and it sounds beautiful. I have never heard it sound so beautiful. I have never felt so proud of my name. My name feels like a crown.
From that moment on hardly a lecture goes by without her calling out my name for one reason or the other. Every time she poses a question and no answers, you guessed it,
“Tafadzwa, what are your thoughts?
For this reason I am always at attention during all my Microbiology lectures. I become more engaged than I am in all my other units. And the results show for themselves. I ace my Microbiology exam. All this because my lecturer was able to say my name properly.
I am in love with my name again. I fall in love with next girl to say it right.
Years later after I graduated, my name almost kills me. Sort of. That’s what I thought when I was desperately trying to keep the Grim Reaper at bay. I had been the victim of a violent robbery and as I lay there in a pool of my own blood the first respondents kept asking me to say my name. I kept saying Tafadzwa. And they kept asking me to say it over and over again. I remember getting frustrated and thinking that I was going to die because the police couldn’t understand me when I said my name. In those moments I briefly resented my name. ( I have no idea why I didn’t just say Taf). But I later found out that it was standard procedure for them to repeatedly ask Trauma patients questions just to make sure they maintain consciousness.
I remember hearing a story once, about a tribe in some remote, rural place that has no name for the color blue. They do not know what the color blue is. It has no name so it does not exist. It does not exist because it has no name.
My name is Tafadzwa. It’s a tough t clinging to a sharp a, which melts into a frivolous ffff, which loosely hugs an a that falls into a deep d, chocked by a z and released by a w and accentuated by an a at the end. Ta-fad-zwa .You have to accentuate that last a. Tafadzwa. My name is Tafadzwa. My name is a valuable undertaking. My name requires your rapt attention. Say my name in one swift note – Tafadzwaaaaah.
Tafadzwa. My name is an endeavor. My name is a song. Tafadzwa. It means you’ve made us happy or we are pleased depending on the context. Tafadzwa. Wrap your tongue around my name, unravel it with the music of your voice, and it will make both you and I happy.
Footnote: I am convinced that my full name Tafadzwa Tichawangana is one of the many reasons I love writing. In Grade 1 when I was still learning to write my teacher would make me write my name over and over again as practice. I had the longest name in my class, so you can imagine that I got more practice that all the other kids. I loved writing my name. And so began my love affair with writing.