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Tana Professor of Linguistics Irene Rabinur
"Our names are long because they mean something"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 15 December, 1999, 12:13 GMT
Madagascar: Island of unpronounceable names

By News Online's Russell Smith

The Indian Ocean island of Madagascar has some of the longest and most difficult to pronounce names in the world.

And unless you speak Malagasy, trying to remember many of the names of people and places on the fourth largest island in the world can be almost impossible.

Pronounceable politicians?
Pierrot Rajaonarivelo
Tovonanahary Rabetsitonta
Manandafy Rakotonirina
Biclair Henri Andrianantoandro
So it is gratifying to know that even Madagascans themselves have trouble with some of them, which may explain why they shorten the 12-letter name of the capital, Antananarivo, to call it simply Tana.

And who would fancy having to ask for a bus ticket to Antsohimbondrona or Tsiroanomandidy?

Yet the real trouble with Madagascan names really begins when it comes to people.

One example which comes in at an impressive 24 letters is Razafindrandriatsimaniry, meaning the grandson of the prince or nobleman who envies nobody.

Another of the same length is Andrianatompokoindrindra, meaning the prince who is my real lord.

The father of names

But possibly the longest known example is that of a 19th century king recognised by many as the father of the Madagascan people.

His name was Andrianatompokoindrindra, but rumour has it that this is a shorter version of his full name which was Andrianampoinimerinatompokoindrindra - 36 letters - meaning the prince who was given birth by Imerina and who is my real lord.

Strange surname rules
Some are two surnames joined together with a hyphen.
Some are two separate names
It can come first if it sounds better
Can be accompanied by two first names
Irene Rabinur, professor of socio-linguistics at the University of Tana says the reason why names are so long is because each part has meaning and traditionally there used to be only one name - no separate first name and family names - although European influences in towns are now changing this.

Nowadays some of the population have relatively short family names such as Zafy or Boto, with the tongue-twisting long names particularly popular among people originating from the central region.

But they still get more than their fair share of publicity as the Madagascan elite originates from this area.

Wedding mouthful

Journalist and translator Alain Rakotondrandria says that in theory, the longest present-day names belong to women from the central region who marry men from the same region. The wives would then add their maiden names to those of their husbands.

For example, a Ms Sahondra Lydia Rakotomalala who married a Mr Andriatsiferanarivo would become Mrs Sahondra Lydia Andriatsiferanarivo Rakotomalala.

This could be quite enough to put someone off their wedding vows.

Fortunately communication after the vows should be much easier, as nicknames - understandably - are commonplace across Madagascar.

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