Saturday, October 2, 2010

Jina Longu Ni Crysti (My name is Christy)

2 October 2010

Names in foreign countries always present an interesting problem.  They were made for one culture, one country, one language… and many don’t transfer well from one place to another.  Take David, for instance.  In German, it’s Daudi.  Which is fine.  Except when I’m talking to parents about their kid and realize that we’re both using different names for one person… and I wonder if I’ve been calling him the wrong name all along!

"Crystal" presents another interesting conundrum.  Most people here in Swahili-Land have never heard the word crystal before, even meaning a rock of great value.  So hearing this for the first time, they jump to the most obvious conclusion – Christo.  Yes, this does mean Christ, or Jesus, in Swahili.  So I introduce myself as Crystal, and they nod and laugh and acknowledge that they understand by pointing upward and saying, “ah, Christo!  Yesu! (Jesus).”  Hmm… not quite what I was going for.

Some people, like my roommate Marie, have had just as bad of luck.  Her name here is either pronounced Mary (as in the mother of Jesus), or Maria.  For a culture that loves to put the “ee” sound at the end of every word, it’s kind of funny that they can’t grasp this one.  But we once had a doctor give us our rabies vaccine here in Dar who laughed and laughed… his name was Joseph, and Marie’s name was Mary… Mary and Joseph!  Hahahaha! :(

In the end, I’ve come to the conclusion that I should change my name, at least a little, to make it more accessible for the average Tanzanian.  Makes sense, right?  If they’re going to get it wrong anyway, I may as well help them by giving them something they can say.  After some consideration, I tried dropping the “l” at the end… leaving me with “Crysta.”  Sometimes this works, but more often than not, they just look at me with a blank and confused expression and say “samahani?”  (excuse me?). 

So I decided another tactic was necessary.  Since Swahili-speakers love to put “ee” (spelled i) at the end of EVERYTHING – no joke – I decided the closest thing to Crystal was going to be Crysti.  Or Christi.  Or Christy.  It doesn’t matter how you spell it, as long as the person I’m talking to can say it! 

It was soon after this decision that I discovered another person with the same name… curiously, a character in a book.  Her name was Christy, and she, too, went away from home to a very different place to be a missions teacher.  And though she had little idea of what she would find when she arrived, she fell in love with the people and place.  I felt the name just might suit me.

I’m still not used to introducing myself as Christy, and I’m not sure it will ever really stick.  I certainly don’t turn around if someone calls me by that name!  On the other hand, I think the legacy of the character whose name I adopted gives me something to connect to here as a single missions teacher in a very different place from “home.”

Jina loko ni nani?  (What is YOUR name?)


  1. Je m'appelle Laree. Or Larl. I am laughing out loud over your post...SO right on target!! :)

  2. I love that book! Its a good name! :)

  3. How do you think Tanzanians will do with Rachel and Stephen? When I studied Spanish in the Dominican Republic some people called me Raquel, a pretty easy transfer which I liked, and then some people pronounced it as they saw it: Rah-CHel, which was fine too. Other people had more difficulty with their names :)

  4. So interesting...the little things you never expect to make a difference. I do know that we have our own issues with names of foreign visitors too. A Korean woman studying at the seminary said that we should just call her "Ran" because it was close to her name.