What is it that makes being called by name so special?
Maybe it makes us feel known or understood. Maybe we like knowing that someone cared enough to remember. But no matter why you like it, we can all agree that names are special.
That’s why it’s so important to understand your sponsored child’s name!
World Help has sponsored children that live all over the world. And many of the cultures they come from have different traditions related to their names.
Maybe you’ve noticed that when your sponsored child writes to you, he or she uses a different name than is printed on the child biography you received in the mail. Maybe you’ve noticed that the last name is often written before the first name. There are a number of situations that may affect the way your sponsored child writes his or her name.
One of the countries with the most confusing names for Westerners is Uganda.
In Uganda, first names aren’t considered very important except on official documents. Children are generally free to call themselves whatever they wish. A girl born with the name Caroline may address herself as Carolyn to her friends and when she writes to you — even though her parents call her Carolina.
A child’s last name — or clan name — is much more important. But Ugandan last names don’t work the same way they do in Western nations.
Each clan has many different last names that belong specifically to that clan. When a child is born, his parents not only choose the child’s first name, they also choose which of the many clan names he will have. This means even brothers and sisters often have different last names!
But people who understand clan names would automatically recognize both names and be able to identify which clan the siblings belong to.
Children in Uganda often use their clan names and first names interchangeably, so your sponsored child may use either one or both of these names when writing to you.
Names also can have highly specific meanings. The name “Babirye” means that a girl is the firstborn in a set of twins. And children are often named according to the time of year they were born or their parents’ favorite proverb.
These different names may not mean anything to you, but to the child you sponsor, they may be very important. And their spelling can be important, too.
Our partner in Uganda stressed the importance of spelling clan names correctly:
Most of our local names have meanings. For example, “Kisakye” means “God’s grace.” If a single letter was left out and the name was misspelled as Kisaye, it would mean “slashed.” That is how sensitive our local names are.
This misspelling could be insulting or hurtful to a child who doesn’t understand that his or her sponsor doesn’t know any better.
Different customs related to names are interesting, but don’t let them scare you or keep you from writing to your child. If your sponsored child’s name is confusing to you, just use the first name or nickname printed on the child biography you received in the mail.
Although names are important, the most important thing you can do for your sponsored child is love them! A letter in the mail will be an exciting surprise, showing your sponsored child how much you care.
Thank you for being a child sponsor and for taking the time to get to know a child who is as unique and special as his or her name.