no last name…

Since we started our child sponsorship program, there is one question that I get asked frequently.

“Which name do I address the child by?”

People are confused because they see both names being used and aren’t sure why children are going by their last name. It actually isn’t as confusing once you get a little info about the culture. Here, people do not have a first and last name. They also don’t have family names. For example, we are the Stanley family and everyone knows our relation because of it; however, in Uganda you don’t know people are related unless they tell you or you’ve known them since birth.

Here, everyone has a tribal name and an English name or religious name. For example, Zainab is an Islamic name. Kisakye is a Luganda name. Karungi is a Luyankole name but change the r to l and you have Kalungi, a Luganda name. When a woman gets married, she usually takes the local name of her husband. For example, our Head Mistress was Tusiime Oliver before marriage but now that she married Suubi Joseph, her name is Suubi Oliver. Oliver is used like Olivia here in Uganda, so it is a female name.

So, how do you know which name to use when addressing someone? It just depends on the person, but it really doesn’t matter. People answer to both names, just like I anwer to Tamra or Mrs. Stanley. When the children write letters to their sponsors or pen-pals, I ask them to sign the letter with the name that they prefer to be called. I tell them, “sign with the name that your friends call you.” So, once you’ve received a letter, you’ll know which name to call them. In the meantime, don’t sweat it. You can use both names or pick either one. They will not be offended.