Saturday, July 19, 2014

Traditional Basotho Names

These are my host brothers, Tsepiso and Katleho. Their names mean promise and success, respectively.

    Lerato rato borato. Banana fana borato. My, my borato. Lerato!
   OK, that was corny but names are really important here in Lesotho. (BTW, Lerato means love in Sesotho.)
   Basotho tend to give their children positive names like Mpho (gift), Palesa (flower) and Thabo (joy/happiness).
   They believe that a bad name is an omen. But if a family has a child after one that has died, that child can be given a bad name. The "bad name" is given to get the child to survive, according to my Peace Corps Sesotho Language Book.
   A bad name can be ntja (dog), Mosela (tail), Nthofeela (thing) or Tsoene Motho (one who looks like a monkey).
   "Good names" can also be given to children who succeed those who died. Some examples are Tseliso (consolation), Malefane (one who pays) and Puseletso (reimbursement).
   Here are some other tidbits about names in Basotho culture:

-Many children are given Christian names at Baptism, since many Basotho are Christian.

-When a woman marries, her first and last names completely change. She will likely be "Ma," or "Mother of someone." For example, MaPalesa means mother of Palesa, and MaThabo means mother of Thabo.

-Other Basotho will give their children the name of one of their ancestor to honor the family heritage.

-Some families give their sons the same first names as their last names to honor the family name. For example, my host family's last name is Tsiane. So one member of the family's name is Tsiane Tsiane.

   I use the names to help me learn Sesotho. I've picked up many words in school and around the village just from asking the kids what their names are.
   They've taught be Banolo (soft), Neo (gift), Likotse (dangerous) and one of my faves Lehohohnolo (lucky).


  1. The name meanings are very interesting. I guess I don't understand the bad omen names...why they would want to give their child a name that depicts something they consider bad? So when a woman marries would her name be different to/for each child?

    1. Hey Crystal! No one could really give me a specific answer on the bad names other than that's the culture. And women will take the name of their firstborn, not all the children. Hope this clarifies that point for you!

  2. More names, please! And what do they think of your name?

    1. Hey lady! Ok here goes:
      Girl names
      Mathapelo-mother of prayer
      Makatiba-mother of hat
      Malefu-mother of payment

      Boy names

      Unisex names
      Rethabile-we are happy
      Relebohile-we are thankful
      Liteboho-many thanks

      They think my American name is funny. They usually pronounce it 'Jenneeva.'