Children in many African societies have meaningful names – unlike their Western counterparts, whose names are primarily labels. In Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Tswana, and many other cultures, namegivers traditionally chose personal names that pointed to a range of people and circumstances that were relevant at the time of the child's birth. These highly individual or unique names were part of particular social frameworks that have long been evolving with Western acculturation. Like the social frameworks within which they are embedded, naming practices are in the process of change.
This article investigates change in Zulu naming practices as a reflection of wider social changes. Taking historical accounts as the source of traditional namegiving, an analysis of rural, farm, and urban names shows quantitative and qualitative differences in naming practices. Contemporary
names differ significantly from traditional ones, and provide evidence that the world view within which names are given is in the process of redefinition. (Anthropological linguistics, naming, South Africa, Zulu)