Less than a month into my time here, my friend Musa (meaning Grace) decided to give me a Zulu name. We were walking in town toward the KFC where she was going to buy us a couple of ice cream cones (my first ice cream since the end of orientation, might I add) and she felt that it was time. She named me Zethu; and as all Zulu names mean something, Zethu means “She is ours.” Just like that, I belonged to someone: to my friend Musa, and to my community. I am theirs, and I belong. From that day on, I have been mostly referred to as Zethu; when I hear my name, my head turns and I am sometimes even taken aback when someone calls me Hannah here. This sense of belonging that this naming has given me is something that I don’t always feel, especially when I generally stick out like a sore thumb, but it is something that is always there, under the surface. All it takes is to hear my name being called by a woman who works in the sewing department or the wafer bakery or in the kitchen to feel that belonging that my new name evokes. As Gregory Boyle writes in Tattoos on the Heart, “’I have called you by name. You are mine,’ is how Isaiah gets God to articulate this truth. Who doesn’t want to be called by name, known?” I am called by name, and I am known. Zethu: she is ours. God calls us by name and says “You belong to me.” Here I am, Lord.
Thinking about the sense of belonging that my name gives me made me think about all the different times in our lives that we are named and renamed. This happens many times as a rite of passage into different life stages, or when a person is accepted or welcomed into a community. When we are born, we are given names, some of which are names that mean something to our parents or caretakers, other names are family names, passed down through generations. In Judaism, there is a rite of passage eight days into a child’s life where the child is named and, if a boy, circumcised, marking a passage into the world and into religious life. When we get older, we might choose a confirmation name as a sign of our passage into another level of Christian life. When we get married we might add a family and their history into our lives in the form of a surname, or we could choose to take an entirely different name with our spouse to signify the union. We get accepted and welcomed into communities with new names: a person receives their doctorate and adds Dr. onto their name, signifying their place in a community. And, of course, there are names that could be given to a person who is being welcomed into a community entirely foreign to them, a name that brings her into the community and says “you belong to us.” Isn’t that really what a name is? With each name you are given or even choose, you gain a belonging into a community and the walls that separate us are further broken down.
Again, as Gregory Boyle writes in Tattoos on the Heart, “Mother Theresa diagnosed the world’s ills in this way: we’ve just ‘forgotten that we belong to each other.’ Kinship is what happens when we refuse to let that happen.” According to Islam, this is what sin consists of: forgetfulness. I would have to agree; we forget about our brothers and sisters, we forget about God, we forget about the earth, and we forget our collective belonging. This is what causes the systemic sin that separates us from one another and allows us to build walls. If we refuse to forget that we belong to each other and that God says, “You are mine,” we get closer to achieving what we have in mind when we think of a world free of the barriers that separate us and the chains that bind us. When we do this, we have kinship and we have community, and most of all belonging. We belong to each other, and when I hear my name called, Zethu, I am known and I belong.