Saturday, July 30, 2011

What’s in a Name?

Meet Tamba, Tamba, and Tamba.
July 2011 AFM Life 170
Yes, all three of these guys are named Tamba. Remind you of a sitcom from the early 90s?

We joke about how many patients we have with the same name.  Ibrahim, Idriss, Foday, Tamba, Sahr, Abu, Abdul, Hassan, and Mohamed will identify most of the boys you see.  Kadie, Isatu, Memunatu, Mabinty, Aminata, Salimatu, Hawanatu, Fatmata and Fatu – holler these out, and you’re likely to find several females with those names.

Last names seem to be just as limited: Koroma, Kamara, Conteh, Sesay, Kanneh, Jalloh, Tarawally, and Coker and you have most of the country.  Imagine what this does with a database when you have 12 patients named Mohamed Sesay??

This past week we met Augustine at the beach.
Well, his name is Tamba – Augustine is his baptismal name.  We asked him why so many people are named Tamba and finally got some reasoning for it. He said that in his home area of Kono (the district in the far northeast, known for their diamonds), your birth order determines your name. 
Sierra Leone Districts.png
(for reference, Freetown is located in the Western Area Urban district- identified with a number one on the map).

According to Tamba (Augustine), these are the names for your children according to birth order.

the first born is: Sahr.
second is Tamba
third is Komba
fourth is Aiah
fifth son is Kai
sixth son is Mani
seventh is Sundu

For girls, the name for the first is Sia.
second girl is Kumba
third girl is Yeah (love it!)
fourth girl is Finda
fifth is Bondu
sixth is Sundu
and the last baby (girl or boy) is Bama.

While Tamba (Augustine) was telling us this, we asked what his brother’s name is.  And (to no surprise), it was Komba (third born).  What goes unsaid is that there was a child born before Tamba, a boy, named Sahr.  He confirmed that Sahr had died as a baby or small child.  With an infant mortality rate of 7.8 deaths out of every 100 births (compared to 6.06 out of every 1000 in the US), (Source: CIA World Factbook) Sierra Leonean moms and dads can't really afford to spend nine months dreaming and creating a name into which they deposit all their hopes and dreams for the future. 

So, while Jacob, Aiden, Madison, and Emma may top the charts in the west with several thousand other names creatively being invented,  Sahr, Tamba, Sia and Kumba are still topping the charts in Kono, Sierra Leone. 

On a side note:

Back in Freetown, our friends Kadie and Haja (girls who go to school on the Cheshire Home site, but live in a little roughed in building outside the compound), had another addition to their family last week.  Baby girl was born on the 17th of July.  We met her that Tuesday looking as perfect as can be.  When asked what the name was, mom said that she didn't have a name yet- she would be named on Sunday, following the Muslim custom of daughters being named on the seventh day.  So, we met "Aisha" this past week.  We are praying for health and life in this family.

Mrs. Kamara with her (at least) sixth child, Aisha.
Kadie (left), neighboring toddler (in wig), neighbor girl in center, Haja (right),
with baby sister Aisha and Mommy in back.  One little sister and two brothers are missing from the photo.


  1. That was fun to learn! I'd always known this about their names - but never seen them all written out.

  2. Actually Aiah is 3rd son and Komba 4th. Finda is 3rd daughter and Yei 4th.

  3. Actually Aiah is 3rd son and Komba 4th. Finda is 3rd daughter and Yei 4th.