Last year, King Mswati III of Swaziland, announced that he would be celebrating his 50th birthday by changing the name of his country to eSwatini.
This was the first time in 34 years for a country to change its name. The last time an independent country completely changed its name was in 1984, when Upper Volta became Burkina Faso “Land of Incorruptible People”.
However, the name change is not the interesting factor but how the name is spelt.
Wisey Mkhulwane, from the University of Swaziland explains why the name is spelt as eSwatini and not Eswatini.
“The name of our country actually begins with the “S” but it doesn’t make sense in our language to pronounce it without the prefix “e”. In English you may say “In” Swaziland/Swatiland the prefix “e” represents “in/at” then the actual name “Swatini” but you have to pronounce it together hence eSwatini.
eSwatini means “Land of the Swazis” in the local siSwati language. Little eSwatini is now the most interestingly capitalized nation on earth!
The lower-case “e” is a locative prefix that expresses something like “in” or “at,” but in many South African languages, the main root of a word is what gets capitalized, even if it’s not the first letter. So “eSwatini” has what’s called a “medial capital,” just like “eBay” or “iPhone.” This is called camel case, since it makes the word bulge upward in weird spots, like a camel’s hump.
Kwena Makgamatha from the University of Limpopo said it is the official literary form of writing Nguni languages (siSwati is a/an Nguni language) as it is governed by the Pan-South African Language Board.
“Any name of a place in Nguni languages that starts with the letter e, the letter is always written in a lower case and the succeeding letter capitalized. As far I am aware, in most cases such a name always means “a place of” A good example is eMalahleni, formerly called Nelspruit, meaning “a place of coal”.