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The Family Name.

As I was growing up, I realized that we had a common name with my parents and siblings. “AGENA” an African Name which means “I AM TRUSTED” is my father’s name which we were all expected to adopt. And that is what we call our “Family” Name.

My Elder Sister ‘Monica Agena’ a lecturer at the department of Women and Gender studies of Makerere University-Uganda insists that the whole Idea of Family name was a colonial Entity that Africans brought without questioning. She says that in the African Traditional Society, Women and Children had their own names and not their Husbands’. The children were usually named after their ancestors. In social Antropology, Naming is a serious topic. This is what my Sister Monica has to say about our family Name AGENA.

“Daddy asked me to use AGENA before joining Primary 1, but I complained that I could not spell the name, he offered to teach me, I mastered the spelling and got started with the name, abandoning ACIO(This is her African Name) whose spelling I had... earlier mastered. I do not hate the name AGENA, it is my father's and has a good African meaning .The name has made me ride on my father's achievements, elevated my status and made me proud, But it has made everyone think I have no other African names, yet the 2 are lying idle.”

Being the youngest in the Family, I had no questions about the name since everyone else was an AGENA, on the contrary, I was proud to share a name with my father whom I looked at as the family Icon and a role model. However, as I grew up and began to study gender and work with communities, I began to ask myself a thousand questions about the ‘Family’ Name. Is it a mere family name or it’s about Egoism? I could not understand the logic of being given my own African name and abandoning to take on my father’s name………

And Just like my sister, My African Name is lying Idle and everyone else thinks that I do not own one. When I think of marriage, I imagine adopting my-husband-to be’s name and have all my children adopt his name too which will also be branded ‘A family name’. I am not complaining because that Name has kept us as one and even after our father passed on, his legacy remains though us. How I wish all Family names could be used as symbols of unity & Oneness as opposed to Egoism & dictatorship. May the name be reflected in the deeds of its bearers. My prayer is that all Women world over should adopt one family name which will be a tool to fight all forms of Violence against Women.

What Name would you suggest?



Carri Pence's picture

Your entry made me think

Your entry made me think about how our name becomes our identity. My last name, Pence, gives me a stronger tie to my dad's family than to my mom's family since I don't share her name. It is also interesting on how the use of names are transformed and how it changed with the colonization of Africa. Furthermore, I find it interesting that your name represents you and it can be changed as soon as you are married, giving up a very significant part of one's identity.

I look forward to reading more of your writing,
Carri Pence

SAsong's picture


Thanks for sharing this piece and I concur with Carri...It definitely made me think. I remember how too often when I was being introduced it was always associated with my Father's tribe or some connection to him. Though we are still named after our ancestors, but the last name is always tagged on...but I think it is all about relationships. I have my father's name but I am closer to my mother's side. This piece certainly made me pause and think...Thanks!

Maureen_Agena's picture

Thank You

Thank you Carri and SAsong for the comments. @ Carri it's amazing how these names become part of us for life (Our Identity). @SAsong, it's great that we are still named after our ancestors.

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