Who’s your daddy?

Ethiopians use patronyms (those fancy words I learned in anthropology class are finally getting some use).  Here, if a man’s name is Berhanu Getachew, his given name is Berhanu and his father’s given name is Getachew.  There is no family name that stays the same through the generations.

If a woman’s name is Genet Danye, that tells you that her name is Genet and her father’s name is Danye.  If Berhanu Getachew and Genet Danye get married and have children, their children’s second name will be Berhanu.  Women don’t change their second name when they marry.

When you add an honorific like Ato (Mr.) or Waziro (Mrs.), you use it with the person’s given name: Ato Berhanu and Waziro Genet.  In our school, many Western teachers try to keep things consistent by going with the Ethiopian honorific system – hence I am Ms. Lorna, not Ms. MacIver.

The patronym thing can be a little confusing for new arrivals filling out their first round of paperwork.  Instead of “first name” and “last name” or “surname”, official forms ask for “name” and “father’s name.”  It seems like an odd question until you learn that they are just asking for your second name.  I’m getting very good at paperwork now.  There has certainly been plenty of opportunity to practice.

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About lornaofarabia

I am a teacher from Medford, Oregon. I currently live and work in Cairo, Egypt.
This entry was posted in Background, Ethiopia and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Who’s your daddy?

  1. Alice says:

    what happens if you’re adopted? that could get so confusing. is it then the berhanu household? people just have to know that genet is part of it?

    • In most cases the child would get the adoptive father’s name, I suppose unless it was an older child or relative and they wanted to keep the name of a natural father who had died – pretty much how we do it, too. I don’t know what a single mom would do. I’ll keep my ears open.

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