Towns own nicknames


To a great extent, the official place-names in the Northern Cape can be traced back to colonial and Apartheid times where towns are named after individuals most of its residents are unfamiliar with.

Take for example Kimberley and Upington. Do you know the Earl of Kimberley? Ever heard of Sir Thomas Upington? Kimberley and Upington owe their names to them. As I journeyed through the province, I realised that most residents don’t know this.

Considering the national efforts of re-naming and decreasing colonial place-names (toponyms), it puzzled me that our province had not engaged in a renaming project for its towns. Why did the residents appear so comfortable with these colonial names?

Following numerous research trips and enlightening conversations with residents, I think I have solved this:

Northern Cape residents have created informal, oral place-names for their towns in the form of nicknames. These nicknames supersede the official, written place-names and the residents don’t use the offficial names in informal, everyday settings.

Most residents are well-versed about a town’s nickname’s background and its meaning – a stark contrast to the lack of knowledge about the official place-names and their origins.

A town’s nickname can be borne from various circumstances. Two popular circumstances that inspire a nickname are: a) residents’ perception of their town and of themselves and b) the need for a place-name that sounds more alive and cooler.

Douglas and Britstown’s nicknames exemplify names that speak to perception of place and people:

Douglas’ nickname is “die glas” (the glass) and/or “die glas wat nie breek nie” (the glass that does not break). “Glas” was extracted from the last four letters in Douglas and according to Douglas’ residents, the nickname pays homage to Douglas being “ ’n lekker plek”. The glass never breaks; the glass of entertainment, friendliness and fun.

Britstown’s nickname also includes the word “breek” however it doesn’t share the jovial sentiments associated with Douglas’ “breek”. Britstown is colloquially referred to as Breekkierries. I asked what inspired this nickname and residents sombrely related that nothing progressive happens in Britstown – there is just unemployment and crime. Symbolically, everything is broken (breek) – the town and the lives and futures of the residents are in tatters.

In terms of nicknames that have been created to “upgrade” and rejuvenate existing place-names, Kimberley and Campbell’s nicknames illustrate this practice aptly. Kimberley is lovingly called “die Y” or “K” and subsequently Kimberley’s residents are known as “Y-sters” and/or “K-sters”. These nicknames are linked to the first and last letters in Kimberley’s name.

I think “Ek is van die Y af” sounds much more contemporary than “Ek is van Kimberley af”. The younger generation also refer to Kimberley as “053” which is the Northern Cape’s dialling code.

Another nickname invented to breathe some life into a seemingly desolate place is Campton Park for Campbell. It is reported that the sound of the nickname is repurposed from Kempton Park which is in Gauteng.

Perhaps Campbell residents aspire for their town be as prominent and productive as Kempton Park is.

Feel free to share your town’s nickname with me at noordkaapding@gmail.com

  • Dr Lorato Mokwena (PhD); lecturer: Linguistics Department; University of the Western Cape
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