Original Research

A bad name is an omen: Stigmatising names amongst the Basotho

Rethabile M. Possa-Mogoera
Literator | Vol 41, No 1 | a1710 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v41i1.1710 | © 2020 Rethabile Possa-Mogoera | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 27 May 2020 | Published: 18 December 2020

About the author(s)

Rethabile M. Possa-Mogoera, Department of African Languages and Literatures, Faculty of Humanities, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa


This study questions the existence of the proverb Lebitso lebe ke seromo [A bad name is an omen], which has been used by Basotho from time immemorial. This proverb shows that giving a child a bad name is a disadvantage to the child; however, Basotho named and continue to give children unpleasant names. These names stigmatise the name bearers and make one feel unwanted and detested by the family and the society they belong to. The result of this is a bitter, unsympathetic, insensitive and self-centred child. The question is whether Basotho’s intentions when formulating this proverb were to curse the name bearers or the so-called illegitimate children who are given these names, or to conscientise the name givers to be careful when naming children. This emanates from the fact that they know very well how a bad name affects the bearer. The researcher has been collecting and documenting these names from 2010 to date. This article aims to discuss the different names given to the so-called illegitimate child, abandoned, rejected and unwelcome children, as they are the ones who are mostly given these bad names. This article further investigates the reasons why these names were given to the child and who named the child. The effect these names have on their bearer and the behaviour resulting from such names will be discussed. This article will finally challenge the proverb Lebitso lebe ke seromo. This study will adopt onomastics and discourse analysis to analyse and interpret data.


proverbs; naming; discourse analysis; onomastics; illegitimate child; Basotho; Lebitso lebe ke seromo; critical discourse analysis.


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