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Professor Adrian Koopman with Ms Debra Primo
(publisher at UKZN Press).

UKZN Emeritus Professor Adrian Koopman recently released a book titled Zulu Plant Names which details the complex relationship between plants, the isiZulu language and isiZulu culture.

The launch was held at Koopman’s home where he has many of the plants identified in the book growing in his garden.

Koopman retired as Professor of isiZulu Studies at UKZN after 37 years of teaching the language and literature. His major interest over the years has been in names, naming and naming systems.

He is the author of the 2002 Zulu Names as well as more than 50 articles and chapters in academic journals and books. He is the immediate past president of the Names Society of Southern Africa, and is still the Editor of their journal Nomina Africana.

Publishers of Zulu Plant Names, UKZN Press, say in a statement that Zulu plant names do not just identify plants, they tell a lot more about the plant, or how it is perceived or used in Zulu culture.

‘For example, the plant name umhlulambazo (‘what defeats the axe’) tells us that this is a tree with hard, dense wood, and that usondelangange (‘come closer so I can embrace you’) is a tree with large thorns that snag the passer-by.

‘In a similar vein, both umakuphole (‘let it cool down’) and icishamlilo (‘put out the fire’) refer to plants that are used medicinally to treat fevers and inflammations. Plants used as the base of love-charms have names that are particularly colourful, such as unginakile (‘she has noticed me’), uvelabahleke (‘appear and they smile’) and the wonderfully named ungcingci-wafika-umntakwethu (‘how happy I am that you have arrived, my sweetheart!’).

‘And then there are those plant names that are just plain intriguing, if not mystifying: umakhandakansele (‘the heads of Mr Ratel’), isandlasonwabu (‘hand of a chameleon’), intombikayibhinci (‘the girl does not wear clothes’) and ukhuningomile (‘piece of firewood, I am thirsty’).