The Congolese give their children the most wonderful names – Dieu-donné (God-given), Dieu-Merci (Thank you, Lord), Glorieuse (Glorious), Desiré (much-desired). And usually everyone knows why they have the name they have. Dieu-donné, for example, may have been born 15 years after the previous sibling, such that the mother believed she could not conceive again, making the birth something of a miracle. It seems a shame that we, the Jonathans and Freds of the world, are unlikely to have such a special relationship with our names.
In the course of one such conversation, I learnt that my colleague Deo-Gracias is the 50th child of his father. Thankfully not all of the 50 were born of the same mother, but if I remember rightly the mothers numbered just 4, such that each one had raised at least 10 children. When I asked Deo-Gracias about this he told me that it’s not as difficult as it sounds, because the older siblings look after the younger siblings, and so after a while the mothers can just take it easy (presumably not before they reach the menopause though).
There is definitely a ‘more-the-merrier’ attitude to child-bearing here, which contrasts quite vividly with our fashion for one or two-child families. It’s clear though that desired number of children is (partly) a function of gender: my female colleagues want fewer children, whilst my male colleagues are more expansive in their outlook, which is unsurprising given that the father performs a fairly hands-off role once the baby is born.
I have to acknowledge though that Deo-Gracias seems a very happy and well-adjusted fellow, and does not obviously lack as a result of the limited quality-time spent with his father. After all, he had what every young boy really wants – a reliable supply of siblings to play football with.