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Zulu Cattle Names

Adrian Koopman

Pages 319 - 333

The article begins with a brief sketch of the Zulu people and the importance of cattle in Zulu society, and then goes on to make brief mention of the extensive lexicon of descriptive terms for cattle in the Zulu language. In discussing the actual names of oxen and cows, the article makes a major distinction between those names which are descriptive in nature, i.e. referring to the physical appearance or behavioural characteristics of the ox or cow so named, and those names which constitute an indirect message to a member of the local community who is perceived to have transgressed social rules of behaviour. These ‘communicative names’ are placed in a wider context of indirect messaging in Zulu society. A smaller set of cattle names, which fit neither into the ‘descriptive’ category nor into the ‘communicative’ category, are described under the heading ‘miscellaneous’. The article concludes by looking briefly at links between name and identity, and name and function, both in reference to Zulu cattle names.


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