TWO days after the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup , President Thabo Mbeki went on air saying the South African soccer team should consider a name change.
“These are young people who carry the national colours, the pride and hopes of the nation …. The nation must feel proud, that we identify with these names. ‘Bafana Bafana’ cannot have such meaning.”
Mbeki’s call was supporting by soccer legend Jono Somo: “Everyone knows the Springbok is an African animal, and green is our grass in the fields here. But what does Bafana Bafana mean?”
On the other hand, Business Day deputy sports editor Mninawa Ntloko lamented that, “ The name Bafana Bafana is hardly the point here, is it? The team itself is the problem…. That squad is struggling and you’d better believe me, their name is the least of their problems. At this point, they could be called the Flying Ducks and most of us would not care.”
Bafana Bafana, meaning “Boys, Boys”, was coined by three Sowetan sports reporters in 1992, shortly after SA’s readmission to world football.
“We were doing well and we were rookies in football, and that’s what it means,” said former national captain Neil Tovey.
On the other hand, the nickname Springboks originated during the South African rugby team’s first tour to Britain in 1906-07. At an impromptu meeting, the tour manager, officials and captain Paul Roos invented the nickname to prevent the British press from coining their own.
Roos told newspaper reporters to call the team “De Springbokken”.
The Daily Mail then printed an article referring to the “Springboks”.
What exactly is in a name? And how important is a name to the brand image of a national team? According to branding expert Al Ries: “ In the positioning era, the single most important marketing decision you can make is what to name the product….
“If you don’t have a good brand name, what can you do about it? You could change it!”
When Ralph Lifschitz wanted to become a famous designer, the first thing he did was to change his name to Ralph Lauren. In fact, history could have been markedly different during the 20th century if it were not for a surname change in 1877.
It was Adolf Hitler’s father, Aloys Schicklgruber (the latter meaning “sump digger” in a local Austrian dialect), who decided at the age of 39 to change his name to his stepfather’s family name. It is hard to imagine that 50 years later, Germans would have been keen to salute their chancellor “Heil Schicklgruber!”
Two years ago, the BBC hosted a debate on the subject of naming African soccer teams and invited viewers to give their opinions on the gamut of nicknames such as the Squirrels of Benin, the Hornets of Rwanda or the Chipolopolo (Bullets) of Zambia.
Said George Nworie of Nigeria: “Nicknames not only give a sense of identity but also inspire… . This is why the name ‘Indomitable Lions’ has contributed greatly to Cameroon’s success in recent years.”
One of the most evocative nicknames in African football belongs to Gambia, whose national team is called the Scorpions while the under-20s are Baby Scorpions. No matter how small, their sting is just as painful!
To those opposing a name change, we should remember that in 2002 a High Court judgment declared “Bafana Bafana” was not the exclusive property of the South African Football Association (Safa) and Safa could not stop others using the name. The action arose after a clothing manufacturer registered “Bafana Bafana” as a trademark , threatening an ambitious plan Safa had to promote a range of products, including cosmetics and fertiliser. The judges ruled that “Bafana Bafana” was not owned by Safa.
A name change should be considered. In considering a new name, we should heed the words of Namibian fan Simon Naukala : “Nicknames should be a symbol of national pride, unity, identity, love and determination. As for my country, Namibia, the name Brave Warriors gives us strength and morale as well as the sense of fighting back. Even if we lose, we fight bravely.”
n Dr Eberl is the author of BrandOvation: How Germany won the World Cup of Nation Branding. His coming sequel is called BrandOvation 2010: How Africa Shall Win the World Cup of Destination Branding.