View Message

This is a reply within a larger thread: view the whole thread

Re: Zola in Hebrew
in reply to a message by noel
My point was that was the only reason to be concerned. Not that the name Zola means "cheap", but that in the ears of Hebrew speakers, that is what may come to mind.That Zola is being used by African Americans because it's a Zulu name is probably only party true, in that the belief that it means "peace" in Zulu may have increased it's popularity. Except for a few recent migrants though, most African Americans are culturally European. Zulu is as culturally familiar as Mongolian, and even if they'd successfully researched their ethnic roots, they'd hardly come across it (as I'm sure you're aware the majority of African Americans are descended from West Africans — even recent arrivals are usually West or Central African). A quick check of usage in South Africa bears this up — aside from one white woman (who was probably given the Italian name), all the bearers are actually men, not women, as are the Congolese (where the name has a different meaning again). The Zulu root for the woman's name seems to be simply internet baby namology. It would not surprise me if there was a different, American dialect source for Zola among African American women, but it's not Zulu.
vote up1vote down


I'm not an expert on the subject of African names, but I at least know "all the bearers are actually men, not women" is false. Zola Nombona, Zola Nene, Zola Ndwandwe, and Zola Mafu are some examples I found...when I looked it up, the name Nokuzola (Mndende) came up; perhaps that is a source for it in African usage?As far as I'm aware, there's no basis for saying Italian culture specifically has impacted American culture more significantly than various African cultures.Also, since I can see why European Americans with no Italian heritage or knowledge might feel that Italian names are more culturally familiar to them than a Zulu name, I don't see why an African American with no Zulu heritage or knowledge couldn't feel the same way about a Zulu name being more culturally familiar to them than an Italian name.

This message was edited by the author 6/30/2018, 11:57 AM

vote up1vote down
NO, but the Italian name Zola has entered into a broader cultural sphere than Italy. I'm sure most European Americans have no idea Zola is an Italian name, and it's cultural familiarity has nothing to do with it's "Europeanness". After all many Europeans have names with a non-European origin (James, John, Moses, Mary etc.). I think you misunderstand the sense of "familiar" in this context. In modern English it is almost never used in the sense "related to a family", rather it simply means "acquainted with". Thus an African American growing up in a European culture, with a school system biased toward European history and culture, rather than African, is going to be more acquainted with an Italian name such as Zola, than a supposedly homographic Zulu name. They may feel that a Zulu name is more relevant to them as African Americans, but that does not make them more aware of a Zulu name. You're correct that Zola is used as a name for both men and women in South Africa, but the fact that in America it is considered only a feminine name indicates an unfamiliarity with the African name, further it is not a Zulu word at all. It turns out it's a Xhosa word meaning "appease". The Zulu word is Xola "to be calm" (both languages belong to the Nguni branch of the Bantu group), and is a phonologically altered form of Phola used particularly by married women in avoidance speach or hlonipha (women who practice hlonipha may not say the names of their father-in-law and other senior male relatives or any words with the same root as their names). What's more Xola is not pronounced Zola as we would in English. So it would seem the Zulu origin is purely folk etymology — an attempt to rationalize an name with unknown origin by matching it with an unrelated word.

... Load Full Message

This message was edited by the author 6/30/2018, 11:55 PM

vote up1vote down
I bumped into this old post and found it fitting to comment since I am Nguni (Ngoni if you are from Zambia, Malawi etc and I'm culturally Zulu with Xhosa and Swazi heritage) of South Africa. I'm not going to argue on the origins and the meaning of Zola from an Italian or Hebrew perspective because I know nothing of these languages therefore I don't qualify to argue. I just want to state the following facts concerning the Zulu/Nguni version of the name/word:1. Ukuzola : Means to be calm in Southern Nguni (Xhosa and Zulu, unsure of Swazi and Ndebele version)
2. Nokuzola : Exclusively feminine version of Zola, meaning mother or bearer of calmness
3. Zola: Masculine version of number 2 above, generally given to the male child but can also be given to a female although I've seen fewer instances of this.
4. Zolile : Meaning the calm one.On the other hand, Xola (pronounced with a click not with the "z" sound) means to be peaceful or forgiveness. It is important to understand the origins of the clicking generally found within the Nguni and Southern Sotho stock. The clicks come from our neighbors, the Khoi and the San people. This means on arrival in the South, we did not posses these sounds. It is therefore without a doubt that Xola and Zola are variations of the same word by root or etymology. Further, Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele and Swazi languages are so closely related that sometimes to associate a word/name with anyone of the languages(dialects in my view) exclusively is prone to error, except for a few distinct words.So if an African American chooses that his "Zola" is from a Zulu/Xhosa sense of the word, then it shall be as he chooses and his choice should not be subject to any unfounded scrutiny by a people who understand not either African or African American heritage.
vote up2vote down
The only truly informed and qualified explanation. Thank you
vote up2vote down
But there's no evidence that any African-American has chosen the Zulu/Xhosa name. There is only unfounded speculation that since Zola is popular among African Americans that it must be an "African" name.
vote up0vote down
Nah, I understand what "familiar" means. I just don't agree the Italian origin is as ubiqituous as you're saying. Thanks for the info about Xhosa.
vote up1vote down