In Uganda and in South Sudan, most people are given Christian first names

In Uganda and in South Sudan, most people are given Christian first names – Peter, James, Mary, Grace. But their second names are in their local language, and generally refer to the parents’ livelihoods or environment at the time. The names can mean anything – “Grass” because you were born in the bush, “Quarrel” because your parents weren’t getting along, or “Cow” because your family owned a lot of cattle.

The names that stuck with me were those of the children. In the Protection of Civilians 3 camp in Juba, I met James Mafang and Angelina Nayagak. 

Their children’s names are perhaps the shortest history of South Sudan. Here they are:

Namuch, 7-years-old, Gift of God: When James and Angelina lived off their 40 cows and a small convenience store in Unity state, then part of Sudan, they marked the beginning of their family by calling their  son “Gift of God.” They are devout Christians, met in Church, and were looking forward to growing their family.

Kume, 4-years-old, Government: As citizens of the world’s youngest country, James and Angelina named their first girl “Government” to never forget that they were now living in South Sudan. The economy was picking up, and there was hope that their lives would improve, James says.

Bidong, 2-years-old, Live Longer: Born in a refugee camp, after the family survived the mass killings in Bentiu, the youngest child’s name means “live longer.” James and Angelina lost friends and family members, their home, their cattle, their pickup truck. Now, they say, their only hope is that they will continue to live. 

(Photo by my reporting buddy Hannah Reyes Morales)