Name Change as Symbolic Reparation after Transition: the examples of Germany and South Africa
By Mia Swart
Almost half of all Holocaust victims remain nameless statistics. Just over three million names of Jewish Holocaust victims are known today, representing little more than half of the victims. It is estimated that when all names are retrieved from published and unpublished documents the total number may rise to four million, which leaves two million unknown names. Since memory is closely connected to the identity symbolized by a name, those who cannot be named cannot be remembered. To retrieve a name is to rescue a person from oblivion.
As in the case of the Holocaust, but for different reasons, many of the names of victims of Apartheid are not known. This is especially true if one accepts a broad definition of ‘Apartheid victim’. How does one define the term ‘victim’ in this context? Since this article is concerned with the memorialisation and significance of the names of victims, some attention will be paid to the definition of Apartheid ‘victim’.
An important way of reclaiming a name is to name a place or a street after a victim. Names hold great symbolic value in the process of memorialisation. This article will focus on the changing of street names in post World War II Germany and post Apartheid South Africa. Whereas every transitional context is unique, common trends and features in the practice of name changes after political transition can be discerned and will be discussed here.
The changing of street names, a neglected aspect of transitional history. The changing of street names is representative of name changes more generally. Most of the justifications and reservations pertaining to changing street names also apply to the changing of place names generally. The seemingly administrative procedure of awarding a street name can be a powerful expression of political change. The changing of street names has at least three functions: that of ‘vehicle for commemoration’, that of constituting a form of symbolic reparation for human...