Sunday, December 7, 2014

Do not gossip about him

Suzanne and I have been under the assumption, since 2009, that Anemo's name comes from the Hadiyya language and means something like "one who has found his father." This could still be the case, but it is now looking more likely that Anemo's birth mother gave him an Amharic name that instructs people not to gossip about him.
One of my favorite photos of all time.
Deto, Anemo's birth mother, told us through two translators (Hadiyya to Amharic, Amharic to English) that she initially gave Anemo the name ታሪኩ (Tariku), which is a name meaning "his history" in Amharic. At some point during the first fourteen months of Anemo's life—I believe when she started to make an adoption plan—Deto changed his name to Anemo with the hope of finding him a family instead of reminding him of his history. "Anemo" is a name we absolutely love, and we cannot imagine calling Anemo anything else, no matter what it's meaning.

When I was discussing our son's name with Seife Temam, the administrative assistant here at ILAE, he suggested that Anemo's name was probably Amharic with a very specific meaning having to do with gossip and pronounced slightly differently from how I was saying it.
Seife has been a great resource for my Amharic during my stay. He's also an absolutely lovely guy.
So I asked Seife to say Anemo's name three different ways, just so I could hear the difference. The first, spelled ኣነሞ, is the way we say Anemo's name, with a short 'e' vowel. The second, spelled ኣኔሞ, is the way Amharic speakers write his name (and the way Suzanne's dad pronounces it), with a long 'a' vowel; and the third, spelled ኣንማው, is the revelatory version that Seife introduced me to, which actually means "Do not gossip about him."
Three possible spellings of Anemo's name, read by Seife below.
Seife told me he had a classmate with the Amharic version of the name. He also said the name seems to be disappearing. A quick search on Facebook using a transliterated English spelling—Animow—located a few people with that name, including one person amusingly named "Animow Nimow." However, there was only one profile that included a photo:
Perhaps Anemo will feel a kinship with this dude from Adwa.
A few questions still remain, however. For one, why did no one at the care center where we met Anemo believe he might have an Amharic name with this meaning? Second, if Anemo is a Hadiyya name, why would Deto give her son an Amharic name (Tariku) in the first place? Plus, how did the translation of his name during our interview with Deto come out as "One who has found his father?" Finally, how would one say "Do not gossip about Animow" in Amharic? (Turns out it's ኣንማውን ኣንማው, Animown Animow.)

I had the chance to do some more investigative work into Anemo's name recently, but I blew it.

On Friday night Dawit took me to see his mother, who lives in an area of Addis called አየር ጤና (Ayer Tena), meaning "clean air." While no neighborhood in Addis deserves that name anymore due to the ubiquity of diesel fumes, Dawit's mother does live in an area with minimal car traffic, and I enjoyed seeing children playing in the street as the sun was going down.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the comfort food and the supremely gracious hospitality from Dawit's mother, who was the woman in charge of the care center in Addis where Dawit grew up, and not Dawit's biological mother. In fact, Dawit continues to expand my concept of family as he talks about his many sisters and brothers from his years in that supportive and loving community.
Baked pasta with delicious vegetables. Dawit and I both ate so much.

Dawit, his mom, and a neighbor's daughter on couch. One of Dawit's sisters stands behind.
It's not uncommon in Addis for people to have live-in servants, and Dawit's mother had hired a Hadiya woman to take care of domestic needs. On this night she was in charge of the coffee preparation.
She prepared ወፍራም (wefram) coffee, which means "fat" but refers to the strength of the brew.
I recorded this lovely woman saying a few words in her Hadiyya language, including the term for "thank you" (below), but unfortunately I left without asking if she recognized "Anemo" as a Hadiyya name that means "one who has found his father." I'm still regretting the missed opportunity, yet I will see if Dawit can ask his mother to find out for sure.

Whatever Suzanne and I find out, we don't plan on changing the spelling or pronunciation of Anemo's name. Anemo will always be Anemo; his name will just have more layers of meaning now. And of course he will always smell as sweet.

As I was leaving the house that night, I gave the kind Hadiya woman a photo of Anemo that I had in my wallet, leaving her to contemplate the kind of life this Hadiya boy is living in the United States. I bet she couldn't imagine him riding in the backseat of a car on the way to his Quaker school, playfully and ambivalently practicing the different versions of his Amharic/Hadiyya name.


  1. Stephen, I love your blog. Have you seen this web site? It's a collection of documentaries about Ethiopia:

    1. Dave, thanks. I've started watching some of these videos. I appreciate you following and sending this link!

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