Nobody knows my name

I have the above words of James Baldwin on my mind, notions of self-exile, the emigré and the return.
In homage to Baldwin, or perhaps just because, I will present a study of my name; I do not think you will mind my calling attention to it. It concerns the stories inherent in my given names, as I have come to know them. I’d like to it lay out correctly for you.

My name as it appears is:

Yonatan (Habtezeion)1Hagos Zumoi Godefa Mehari.........Haderius2

I shall expand: In Eritean convention there are no family names. Instead one is known through their lineage.
A child is given a name at birth (we shall call this child Y) and this is the name they will be known by. At the same time child Y will be given their father's first name to follow their own (let us call the father X). Following this logic the child is therefore known as YX.

In many western countries, where convention is different, X as described in the above example will often be confused for a surname or family name, however this is not the case. Unlike a surname, this name is not passed on to the next generation. Instead when child Y (were the child to be male) becomes a father, he too will give his name to his child. The child, therefore becoming ZY.
However what makes this interesting is that whilst child Z keeps the father's first name Y he also keeps X, more as a memory rather then in legislation. And so our names are like dials, scrolling through generations, whilst through viewfinders we can come to rest on a name and are able, simultaneously, to see back and forth through the lineage, ad infinitum.

We are now brought to two key events or situations that have caused my name to not follow this convention:
The first is due to my fathers improvished upbringing and the second, my parents fleeing Eritrea during the war of independence.

Let us examine the latter first. If we were following the convention as I have explained above, my given name should be Habtezion, my father's first name, (incidentally meaning 'Given to Israel').
However it is not, my given name is Hagos, and as you will be able to ascertain from the permutation I outlined above, this would be my grandfather's first name.
Like many in the diaspora who encountered the cultural difference of naming conventions in the West, when my parents fled Eritrea, the permutation of our lineage came to a halt; Hagos, my father's given name became our surname, our family name.
So instead of being Jonathan Habetzion, I am Jonathan Hagos. It is for this reason that I have included the parenthesis1 around my father's first name in the above sequence.

Let us now examine the first dliemma, my father's impoverished background.
I misled you a little before, I implied that my given name 'Hagos' was my grandfather's first name.
In fact this is not the case:

My father was born in a tiny mountainside village called Wkerti, part of a plateau of land 2000m+ above sea level (see HBD)...his father died when he was a very young boy and his family were left with very little. My father had an older brother, his name was Haderius2.
The closest school to Wkerti was an orphanage run by an organisation from the United States. In order to manage the demand of intake, they would accept only one child per family. In order to secure an education for both her children, my grandmother decided that she would transpose my father's given name with another, so that he would not appear to be the brother of Haderius who, as the eldest, would enrol first.
Haderius' name did not change. It remained Haderius Zumoi.
Habtezion, my father, who was deprived of his father at such a young age, would also be deprived of his name: Zumoi. And so he was given his grandfather's first name, becoming, Habtezion Hagos.

What was an industrious and logical decision taken by my grandmother has since proved significant. Haderius died in the war of independence. He was head of the freedom fighters in the region and was caught in an explosion. Although the lineage of a family is recorded by all, it is continued by only the males of the family. With Haderius' death, the true permutation of the lineage was lost.
My father, as a result of the increased violence fled for a better life, taking with him the sequence of names that he had spent his early life learning and becoming and that he would spend the rest of his life carrying.

So the correct permutation of my name, one that is now forever halted in time with my name firmly stationed at the end, is one that I shall call the identity permutation, it is as follows: (where n equals the extent of our collective memory)

Along this endless scroll we find stories of names repeated, names interchanged and names that have been lost, siblings are separated and men become fathers to great grand children they never knew. I'd like to think that every name in the sequence as equal to the one it succeeds and precedes, becoming a perfect set; where each name resides in the shadow of a memory of another.
So although the permutation of my name is, for want of a better word, false, one would argue that it continues nonetheless, to carry out the intended aim of this convention in naming, perhaps more so, that being to record a story and so to tell it.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


The parenthesis is intended to highlight a clause in the sequence that implicitly interrupts its construction, without otherwise affecting it.

My Uncle Haderius was named after the founder of the village, and as a result the beginning of the sequence as outlined above, the first.
In mathematics, his position in the permutation would be referred to as the 'first term' or 'first element'. I find that the term 'integer', from the latin "untouched", has more suitable connotations and goes someway to articulate the gulf of forgotten names that preceed Mehari in the sequence; leaving the name, Haderius, at the head of the sequence, very much untouched.

So much of the above revolves around the paternal lineage of a family that I hope you may find it refreshing to hear that my first name concerns only my mother4.

Yonatan was a close friend of my mother whilst she was at school in Eritrea. When she was about 15 and as war was breaking out and life was becoming increasingly violent, she and her friends planned to enlist in the liberation movement and become freedom fighters. During this time however my mum received news that her younger brother, who was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was ill.
So she planned to visit him and as she left told Yonatan not to enlist until she returned.
When my mother arrived in Addis, realising that her brother was severely ill and in need of her attention, returned to Asmara to retrieve her belongings and to tell Yonatan that she would not be enlisting. When she arrived she found that her school was empty and that those of her friends who hadn't left to enlist had been shot the day before by Mengustu's advancing Ethiopian army.
Yonatan, who kept his promise to my mother, was one of the those who were murdered that day, she swore that if she ever had children she would name her first son after him.

Although my name is spelt Jonathan, it is pronounced 'Yonatan', with the 'J' used as in the palatal approximant /j/.
After my mother gave birth to me in Amsterdam, The Netherlands - upon hearing the name my mother had chosen, 'Jonathan' the Dutch spelling of the name was filled in by my godfather 'Opa'.
Had we remained in The Netherlands my name would be as it is pronounced there, true to it's original intent, but having moved to the UK, it became as it is pronounced here, with the 'J' as an affricate.

In Eritrea it is traditional that a woman does not change her name when she marries. This would seem obvious as I have already demonstrated that the second name in Eritrean convention is not a surname, and the bride would want to keep her father’s name rather then her father-in-law’s.
However my mother, whose name is Shewainesh Tesfai, Tesfai being her father's name, following marriage to my father in the Netherlands became Shewainesh Hagos, my father's perceived surname, and in actual fact his grand-father’s first name.