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For instance, Amohelang vs Ntsekiseng (accept vs take it away from me), Mpitseng vs Ntelekeng (call me vs drive me off), Utloanang vs Loanang (live in harmony vs fight), Lifelile vs Halifele (they are finished vs they don’t get finished).

BASOTHO have a tendency to give personal names that come in opposites to their children (we end this year by looking back at one of the captivating stories of the NUL).

Dr ’Masechaba Mokhathi-Mbhele, a linguist at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) and the author of the book “Sesotho Personal Names as Minimal Pairs”, calls these names lihanani (opposites) and she has a ton of examples to prove it.


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So, you thought Basotho names were just randomly given?

“That is not always the case,” Dr Mbhele said.

“Our studies reveal that names have more to do with the experiences of the awarders. Names express feelings and emotions. Names narrate incidents that took place and names are anchored on culture.”

Study names and find out why they were given and you will have a deeper understanding of that society.

To drive a point home, she quotes a linguistic theory which says: “You cannot divorce language from its society or social members.”

Interestingly, as she studied names, she recognised something quite interesting.

Basotho names come in opposites.

She coined a topic for her study, “Polarity in Basotho names.”

Polarity means opposite ends — negative vs positive, right vs wrong, give vs take, good vs bad, south vs north, cold vs hot.

Here are but limited examples of polarity in Basotho personal names, she has many: Nepo vs Fosa (right vs wrong), Buang vs Tholang (talk vs keep quiet), Mofuthu vs Serame (hot vs cold), Keteng vs Haleeo (I am here vs you are away), Nkemeleng vs Ntšieng (wait for me vs leave me), Hopolang vs Lebalang (remember vs forget), Lumelang vs Hanang (agree vs disagree), Lenepa vs Lefosa (one who gets it right vs one who gets it wrong), ‘Nete vs Thetso (truth vs lie).

But these opposite names also follow some particular structures or patterns, she said.

Of course some are just opposites.

However, consider the following opposites that follow some patterns.

Some names are opposites but share the same prefixes (hlooho ea lentsoe).

Consider these examples: Lenka vs Lebea (one who takes vs one who puts down), Moratuoa vs Mohlouoa (the loved one vs the hated), Liatile vs Lifelile (they have multiplied vs they are finished), Litšoane vs Liphapang (the similar vs the different), Ntšoareng vs Ntloheleng (hold me vs leave me alone), Letuka vs Letima (one who burns something vs one who puts off fire).

Check these names and notice ‘Le,’ ‘Mo,’ ‘Li,’ ‘N’ and ‘Le,’ as prefixes in these opposite names respectively.

Some opposite names mark time.

Take for instance. Bosiu vs Motšeare (night vs day).

Some opposite names are associated with counting, Noosi vs Babeli (One vs two).

Some opposite names mark different periods – Ngoahola vs Isao (last year vs next year).

Some opposite names show action (cause to do).

Leemisa vs Leoisa (one who makes things stand vs one who makes them fall).

Notice the use of “-is-” in both names.

Some opposite names show passiveness (something that suffers action); Motholuoa vs Molahluoa. Again, notice the use of the words “-uo-.”

Some are adjectives (describing words) of size; Liholo vs ‘Nyane (the big one vs the small one). Others mark colour; Mosoeu vs Montšo (whitey vs darky). It is interesting that both names are awarded to men but are opposites.


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