My name is Saaleha Bamjee

I could have been a Sakinah, a Qur-atul-Ayn or a Naseeha.

Had I popped into this world Y-chromosomed and cocksure, I may have been named Dhul Qarnain.

My folks settled on Saaleha; pronounced Saw-li-ha with the h sound emanating from the throat, exactly like when you have to hock up that annoying bit of phlegm.

The name Saaleha means Good even Pious. My parents hoped.

The original spelling of my surname has an H after the A, but for reasons unknown, it was filled in like that on my birth certificate and I’ve seen written examples of my dad spelling his the very same way. I have no idea what my surname means. I want to believe that Bhamjee/Bamjee means something more than “One who opened up a shoe shop in the Oriental Plaza”.

My forefathers were not even Bhamjees to begin with. They were Patels, but apparently, there were just too many of those coming in on the ship to South Africa. So someone had the foresight to adopt the Bhamjee name, thus consigning to me a lifetime of having to explain that we’re not related to the Bhamjee’s Shoes people or that uncle who was involved in the dodgy soccer ticketing business.

The magical webbiness of the internet brought me not only love, but the unique (and blessed) opportunity of meeting another Saaleha Bhamjee (her surname spelt with the H).

My own dear doppelganger and friend, the other Saaleha (of course to her, I am the other Saaleha) thought me terribly potty-mouthed when she first visited my blog. I’m a lot more mellow these days; ask Noorjehaan who was expecting a trigger-happy chain smoker on our first meet. I must have been really angsty.

Saaleha is also a writer, and we’ve even collaborated on a script for a radio drama series. You can see how our names and similar vocations would generate a bit of confusion.

To ameliorate this, I hyphenated my surname after I married. But even though I was presenting myself as Saaleha Bamjee-Mayet, it was still quite muddling for some. The guys down at Adgator got our blog codes mixed up and it’s happened where I’ve received emails not meant for me (disappointingly, nothing risqué).

During our time in Egypt, I decided to pop my dad’s name in the middle of mine. It was one part memorialisation and two parts pragmatism. I dropped the Mayet from that as it just seemed like too much to chew down (though I’m still very much Bamjee-Mayet at heart). Should I ever publish, I will do so under the name Saaleha Idrees.

According to the Department of Home Affairs, I am still, officially, Saaleha Bamjee.

You can call me whatever you want.

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I am a writer and photographer (look up my work on based in Johannesburg, South Africa. I have an MA in Creative Writing from the university currently known as Rhodes. My writing accolades include winning the 2014 Writivism Short Story Prize and the 2020 Ingrid Jonker Poetry Prize for my debut collection, Zikr.

16 thoughts on “My name is Saaleha Bamjee”

  1. I really like your name- have always liked it. Sally sounds lovely actually 😀 but i shall stick with saaleha.

  2. i know a sawleha. everyone calls her solly lolly:)
    we take so much time finding a name ‘that will bring light’…and then revert back to form and bequeath a hideous therapy inducing nickname to even out the luck. i suppose there always needs to be a balance in the beauty of someones name.

  3. have i been getting your name pronunication wrong all along? and you didn’t even correct me?

    i’ve always thought it was pronounced saah-lee-ah. like sounding it out?


    clearly i’m white. and apologetic.

    1. Apart from my uncle who’s an imam, there are probably only about three people I’ve met who pronounce it as Saw-li-ha.
      I’m not even consistent with the pronunciation:)

  4. My mum calls me Sally.
    I love how our names and personalities interact; fitting, aspirational, contradicting.
    I try my best to get pronunciations right. It could mean the difference between being called a goat or a companion (ask my mum about that one;))

  5. Salaams S,

    Been ages since I’ve trawled the blogosphere… especially my friends. Seems weird coming back and seeing things different.. I still remember the blogspot colourful wires from way back when, Electric Spaghetti.

    Everything’s growing up and away too fast. Change is Awesome though 🙂


  6. your blog has been my fav from way back when. I remember driving through Jozi and seeing your hubbys store, and thinking that’s Saaleha(Bamjee-Mayet not Bhamjee)’s hubbys car shop.

    I was also confused about the hyphenation and de-hyphenation and name dropping and name cropping.

    So I’m going to call you Sally.

  7. ‘Cock-sure’ hehe :). Anyway, you look like a
    Saaleha to me. I’m an Ahmed-Dawood and if I add Basha to that.
    ..Hectic. I think your name has a quiet strength to it.

  8. This Saaleha Bhamjee/Bamjee confused me as well. I amazingly managed to meet both of you and always the one would say no, you talking about the other one.. lol..

    My in laws have the wrong surname as well. I didn’t change my surname when we married by law. It seems home affairs had other ideas.. In law I don’t have my maiden surname but my married surname. Although the ID book I have has my maiden surname. I will have to go and reapply for my maiden surname, the reason why I didn’t want to change to my married surname in the first place..
    I applied for full birth certificates for the kids so that they could see I was the mother of my children like giving birth and labour pains were not enough.. but it seemed it was meaningless exercise now cos they change the surname. 🙁

    the reason I didn’t want to change the surname is, Islamically you don’t have to. Secondly it is a double surname and a very wrong surname. The uncle that went to register them at home affairs decided to add his father’s name to their surname.. eish..

    anyway.. one day when I am bored, I will go to home affairs and apply for my real identity back..

  9. You know what I call you! Though some pure and/or feminist minds may take offence if I say it here, so I will keep mum. 🙂

    Strange to read this today as the lunch time canteen discussion today went along hyphenated names, what your name means and how the hell all our surnames are not really our surnames thanks to SA’s unique past! ;p

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