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My Name Poem Analysis

Summary and Analysis of My Name by Magoleng Wa Selepe

South-African poetry is home to many thought provoking compositions that bluntly convey the injustices of the Apartheid regiment inflicted upon the black community. In this context, Magoleng Wa Selepe’s masterpiece “My Name” draws an attention to the nexus between the politics of language and the conflict of identity as an outcome of colonisation. Stripping off one’s name becomes directly proportional to a rejection of all ties to the culture and history of the individual. The poem’s first publication lays in the pages of Staffrider– a late 20th century literary magazine popularizing the Black Consciousness Movement by opening up a platform for young writers to express their angst artistically against the discriminatory laws.

My Name | Summary and Analysis

The poet pens the poem in free verse with a first person speaker. There is an intermingling of three languages- English (the coloniser’s language), Afrikaans (the language of the Dutch settlers) and Xhosa (a native South-African language). These different tongues represent different set of ideas and people in the poem. English becomes a medium to reach a wider audience, Afrikaans symbolises bureaucracy and authority while Xhosa stands for the speaker’s vernacular identity.

The poem initiates the battle between native and colonial identity.  The act of naming refers to the Eurocentric need for order, structure and classification. Under the white domination, Africans’ compulsion to have European names at various institutions and in their legal identification documents points to the dehumanising bureaucratic processes. Occupying lands fail to satiate the thirst for power the whites harbour and thus they devise a new strategy to play with the lives of the colonised. The speaker repeats her full name (a refrain) for four times throughout the poem as a desperate measure to be still in touch with her identity before it burns up in the flames of colonial supremacy.

My Name | Analysis, Lines 1-5


Look what they have done to my name. . .

the wonderful name of my great-great-grandmothers


The burly bureaucrat was surprised.

The poem begins in a state of crisis for the speaker who is urging for an action to amend the authorities’ wrongful conduct on her name. “Look” directly addresses to the readers who receive an invite by the speaker to have a glance at the cultural appropriation and carelessness she becomes a subject to. The ellipses in the second line symbolise her speechlessness and incomprehensibility of the deed. She revels in the greatness of her native name which is a legacy passing down since generations which contrasts the dumbfound response by the bureaucrat to whom it sounds merely as a musical phrase.

The poet employs an alliteration “burly bureaucrat” to mock the man who is powerful both in stature and built but lacks basic feelings of warmth and consideration that associates a cultural marker.

My Name | Analysis, Lines 6-10

What he heard was music to his ears

‘Wat is daai, sénouweer?’

‘I am from Chief DaluxoloVelayigodle of emaMpodweni

And my name is NomgqibeloNcamisileMnqhibisa.’

Messia, help me!

The aspect of orality central to African culture and literature comes to the fore in the first line when the name achieves a musical end to it. The bureaucrat asks the speaker to repeat it in his interrogatory remarks that translates to “What is that, say it again?”She reveals her name once again in order to correct him but this time with a disclosure of her place and clan of belonging too.

The failure at expressing her name in viable means to the man who has papers that decides her fate, she seeks help by calling on a messiah to take her out of this complication.

My Name | Analysis, Lines 11-19

My name is so simple

and yet so meaningful,

but to this man it is trash. . .

He gives me a name

Convenient enough to answer his whim:

I end up being


I . . .


The speaker further contemplates on the bewildering response of the bureaucrat. She believes her name to be simple and culturally rich that opposes the man’s view to it as a “trash.” Not just the name, but the entire black community is a subject of condescension by the white bullies who dislike everything about the former’s existence. The bureaucrat gives her a name- an act that reflects agency and power.

The act of naming suits his comforts and she ends up being “Maria,” a colonial imposition on her and many others. For the sake of convenience, a woman has to get rid of her name that communicates everything about her existence. The last line which states her name is an expression of clinging to her name and identity for one last time while also drawing a cultural comparison between her native name and her colonial one.










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