When we first came to Mali nearly three decades ago, everyone wanted us to take Malian names. We ended up with Yacouba for Jim, which is the local equivalent of his real name (Jim = James = Jacob = Yacouba), and Djeneba for me (kinda sounds like Jennifer, right?).
So shortly into each semester, I challenge my English students at Go Global Mali to take English names. Turnabout is fair play, right? They have been quite good-natured about it, and I confess I have enjoyed “dubbing” them with some of my favorite names.
First, I recommend they do what Jim did – use a cognate if it exists. Equivalents often do in the case of religious names. So Moussa becomes Moses, Issiaka becomes Isaac, Daouda is David, Saran is Sara, and so on. My students don't always want to use these, however, so Adama chose to become Alexander. Can you guess the English equivalents of the following: Harouna, Nuhun, Yaya, and Issa? (Post your responses in the comments or on Facebook, and no spoilers allowed if you have ever lived in West Africa!)
Next, I suggest they try to choose a name which begins with the same letter as their real name – it helps us all remember, and it seems logical. However, there are always those who want to name themselves after a popular TV or movie character. So there is a Jack (Jack Bauer, 24), a Linc (someone from Prison Break, a show I have never watched – would someone please tell me if he's a good guy or a bad guy?!?) and Palmer (Pres. David Palmer, also from 24).
For those who opt to take names using their first initial, I supply a list of choices. And to be honest, this is the most fun part for me because I sneak in the names of family and friends and even my favorite TV characters. So this semester, Kadiatou, whose local nickname is Kady, chose Kate. I think she was thinking of Kate Middleton, which is cool so we call her Princess sometimes, but it also makes me think of my Aunt Kate.
M is a common first letter here, with all the Mohameds and Mamadous and Mahamanes, etc., so I always have to give a fairly large selection of M names for guys, and I was delighted when one chose Marshall (after my cousin of the same name), another chose Moe (our niece Rosanne's husband), and – my real coup – someone chose Malcolm, as in Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly.
One student's name is Cheick, and it was challenging to find names for him. I listed both “Sh” (because Cheick is pronounced with a sh sound) and “Ch” options. I wanted him to choose Charles, because that was my father's name, but I was also rooting for Sheldon (another cousin), Shawn (Psych), and the one he eventually chose, Chauncey (a very good friend from Wilkens Ave. Mennonite Church).
And by the way, my student, Djeneba – the same as my Malian name – picked Jenny. :-)