Why sports writers in Kenya should get names right


Multimedia journalism depicted in a picture [Courtesy]

William Shakespeare once asked “What’s in a name?” in reference to Romeo in the famous play ‘ Romeo and Juliet’.

Juliet said ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’. She meant that although Romeo was from the house of the Montagues who were rivals to her family it did not matter as he was still handsome enough to be her lover.

In the case of my story today, there is a problem because our ‘rose may not smell as sweet’. There is a problem with the name ‘Oduor’. If you misspell it and write it ‘Odour’ it may not smell as nice as if you write it correctly. This story may just explain why the name should be spelt correctly to avoid discomfort.

Paul ‘Cobra’ Oduwo started playing competitive football when I was in high school. Since we shared a name and I was a teenager then, many close friends nicknamed me ‘Oduo Cobra’. We had no family relationship except the sound of our names. Paul died in the late 1990s after a very illustrious career as a defender for both Gor Mahia and Harambee Stars. May he rest in eternal peace.

After the Dusit terror attack, I had to put up a brave face to answer phone calls. At some point, I stopped answering unknown numbers. Why? People did not care to crosscheck facts. Word came quickly that one James Oduor Radido a.k.a ‘Odu Cobra’ was among the victims at Dusit. May he rest in peace.  In football circles, he was known for his passion for the game and used to also comment besides running the Wadau TV on YouTube.

Notwithstanding the way we spell our names, he was also nicknamed ‘Odu Cobra’. This was the beginning of my woes on January 15, 2019. The original Paul ‘Cobra’ Oduwo used to write his name with a ‘wo’ at the end. I write mine without an ‘r’ and Jemmo’s name had an ‘r’ at the end. Well, it appears our circle of friends did not care to note the difference. We were one and the same.

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I received many calls from those trying to confirm that I was safe. When they heard my voice on the other end, they pretended they were asking whether I had heard about the Dusit terror attack. Some asked if I was related to the deceased in any way because we had ‘similar surnames’. There was yet another one who sent ‘pole’ to my close friend telling him how he just met me once but had seen ‘my name’ circulating so he was very sorry about it. All these errors were happening before the images were circulated.

When people saw pictures, the following day and all names were released, some still asked me if we were related because to them there was no difference between the three names. Oduwo whom we were nicknamed after, Oduo who is me and Jemmo’s ‘Oduor’. For the sake of our readers, maybe when things settle down I should one day clarify the cultural meanings of the three names that call for their different spelling.

Close football observers may by now know that Leeds United FC has a Kenyan origin player in their squad called Clarke Oduor. Guess what happened to me on January 6, 2019? I was lazing around in the house when I stumbled upon a 3rd round FA match between Leeds United FC and Queens Park Rangers. In the 78th minute, I saw a player substituted and guess who comes in? A young player in a jersey with the name ‘Odour’ at the back.

The caption on the screen also had the same name.  I became curious and looked again and again. Yes, the name was ‘Odour’. Thanks to my smartphone, I quickly googled and saw the player’s bio. He was born in June 1999, went through Leeds United Academy then signed professional for the senior team on January 16, 2017. What mesmerized me was the fact that the mzungu commentators were mispronouncing the name as well.

Funny enough it appears the guy having been born in the UK may not know the difference. I hope his Kenyan born parents will soon spot the mistake. If they do not, the mzungus will soon make fun of the name on the jersey.

I have come to realize that many writers, journalists, proofreaders and editors and all the works have a problem with the names Oduor and Owuor. They keep on placing the ‘o’ before the ‘u’ and nobody seems to care. It happens so often that even official documents bear these legendary mistakes.

As I sign off to wish James Oduor an everlasting life in heaven, I hope we shall be more careful not to misspell his name once again.