Gugu Mbatha-Raw is nothing to sneeze about

Oh, look at that pretty girl riding around LA on scooters with Larry Crowne. He called her Talia, didn’t he? What a funny name? Aren’t those things called Vespas or something like that? What a funny name.

God I love the movies. They can be so rich for The Blog of Funny Names.

I didn’t even pay any attention to the name of the actress playing that supporting part opposite to leading man Tom Hanks. Yet for some reason I watched “Larry Crowne” with Hanks and Julia Roberts not only in the theater went it came out in 201I but again on HBO, again if I was scrolling idly past … Yeah, it became one of those.

Then I saw that familiar face as the star just a month again in the romantic drama musical “Beyond the Lights.” My favorite Scooter girls Talia had grown into Beyonce-like singer Noni. And the actress name was Gugu Mbatha-Raw.


Searching for the renegade Vespas with Tom Hanks on the set of 'Larry Crowne.' (Getty Images)

Searching for the renegade Vespas with Tom Hanks on the set of ‘Larry Crowne.’ (Getty Images)

Now that’s a funny name now matter how many times you blot your nose with a handkerchief.

How does such a beautiful woman become such a syllabic stew?

On to Wikipedia to get to the bottom of this.

Turns out it’s not her real name.

No. This woman was born on June 30, 1983 in Oxford to father Patrick Mbatha and mother Anne Raw, a black doctor dad originally from South Africa and a white mother nurse from right there in merry old England. Sounds quite normal so far. And then they up and named their darling baby girl Guguletha Sophia Mbatha.

While you’re scratching your head, consider that they tried to make things easier down the road for her. That first name is actually a contraction of igugu lethu, which means “little treasure” in Zulu.

Living in tiny town Witney in Oxfordshire, they sent her to the Henry Box School when she got a little older. Fortunately, instead of fisticuffs or packing, her talents surfaced in acting and singing. And so Gugu Mbatha-Raw, first shortened, middle name abandoned and sur names hyphenated, attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.

From whence she succeeded in living up to the signifant meaning of that big and funny first name of hers.

A big Canadian 'Belle.' (From Wikipedia)

A big Canadian hive for the U.K. film ‘Belle.’ (From Wikipedia)

Mbatha-Raw’s IMDb page carries 28 credits.

Her TV resume includes the BBC TV hit “Doctor Who,” with the recurring role of Tish Jones in 2007. That’s the show with a funny name with a cult following that leaves me scratching my head and wondering, Doctor What?

Her movie resume includes the role of Dido in this past summer’s “Belle.” Yeah, a funny name from the 1800s.

Wrote reviewer Mark Kermode in The Guardian:

“Rising star Gugu Mbatha-Raw is terrific as Dido, a nuanced performance that perfectly embodies the increasingly independent spirit who refuses to accept that – in issues of both race and gender – ‘we are but their property’.”

Poised to twist tongues  beyond ''Beyond.' (Getty Images)

Poised to twist tongues beyond ”Beyond.’ (Getty Images)

And playing Noni, who goes from pouty and straight-haired and more than slightly slutty scoundrel to determined and curly-haired and more than slightly marvelous in the time it takes to soar with Nina Simone’s song “Blackbird” and win a good dude played by Nate Parker’s heart, Mbatha-Raw’s funny name will be raising eyebrows for years to come.

I reviewed this one for the Syracuse New Times, and I declared:

“Gugu Mbatha-Raw owns the screen wholly and freely as Noni, both the extension-haired version all shiny, violet, and preening, and the curly-haired version all subdued, earthy and modestly confident.”

I didn’t even mention that funny little British accent in that quote, did I? Oh, yeah, it’s my name and born-in-Brooklyn accent that are funny … Somebody ele’s turn.

About markbialczak

Mark Bialczak is a veteran journalist. He started his blog,, in February, 2013, to write about music, entertainment, sports and life.
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34 Responses to Gugu Mbatha-Raw is nothing to sneeze about

  1. Pingback: On The Blog of Funny Names, Gugu Mbatha-Raw | markbialczak

  2. ermigal says:

    Interesting background on an up-and-coming talent. Have not seen Dr. Who but am curious…maybe someday and with lots of hours to watch it! Unusual names are both a gift and a burden, Mark! 😉

  3. kerbey says:

    Bravo. She’s a little dish, isn’t she? I’ve never heard of her nor seen her before. And the first pic you show me is of a hair-straightened wide-stanced girl wearing what appears to be a hodge podge of items stolen from a yoga teacher, a cowgirl, and a mariachi band. Nobody really likes the word “raw,” do they? It reminds me of Eddie Murphy. Now I want to go take-a my bath-a early. Mbatha is clearly missing a vowel. And what person shortens Guguletha to simply Gugu, which is the sound a baby makes? Why couldn’t she use her perfectly good Sophia? It would be on trend. Surely no one calls her Gugu? Do they call her G?

    • markbialczak says:

      A bet a lot of agents are calling her whatever she tells them to call her, Kerbey. I stand up for the fact that she didn’t become Gloria Mayben or something like so many drama school teachers and agents probably told her to do in her Wonder Bread years. Sophia isn’t a bad call, though. Raw? Yeah, she could have gone into potty-mouthed stand-up comedy with that one.

  4. ksbeth says:

    wow, what a name and a legacy to go with it. my fav part of this whole thing was your description, ‘slightly slutty scoundrel.’ ) great job, mark.

  5. Liz says:

    Crazy name, but because she was Tish in Dr Who (which is a crazy good show, you have to believe me–would I lie to you?), then she is ok with me. What a lot she has going on! Cool backstory.

    You were recruited for your dogged and relentless reporting skills and ability to spin eminently readable prose.

  6. wdydfae says:

    Are you guys still here? I felt like everyone just disappeared.

    Well, that is definitely a babe, a babe to rival even Ima Hogg.

    And playing Noni, who goes from pouty and straight-haired and more than slightly slutty scoundrel to determined and curly-haired and more than slightly marvelous in the time it takes to soar with Nina Simone’s song “Blackbird” and win a good dude played by Nate Parker’s heart, Mbatha-Raw’s funny name will be raising eyebrows for years to come.

    Exactly. I was just going to say that exact same thing. You just took the darn words right out of my mouth.

    • markbialczak says:

      I did not know that you had a mouth as big as mine, wdyddfae! Must have to fit my sentence in there and get it out!! Thank you for showing up in the wilderness for this babe that rivals ole Ima.

    • Liz says:

      where else would we go, diddy? We are on the Island of Misfit Word Folk, having been rejected by what some would consider “normal” society. Pshaw. And you are on the Island with us because there is no getting off even if you stop writing weekly posts.

      • wdydfae says:

        Cool! Is it like Fantasy Island?

        • markbialczak says:

          ‘Cause wydydie definitely hasn’t stopped commenting!! 🙂 Gotta get me one of those white jackets.

        • Liz says:

          De plane de plane. I wish we were back in the ’80s again. I heart the ’80s. Though I didn’t enjoy the ’80s. Perhaps if I could go back as me now, that would be fun. Fantasy Island is much like our Island of Misfits, except for we are much smarter than those island guests. Our conversations are far more intelligent and witty.

          I think you must come back as a guest poster to make Mark happy, diddy. Please just once?

          • markbialczak says:

            Yeah, Diddy. I’m even reading your music posts. So there. 🙂

          • wdydfae says:

            If I come up with something sometime I’d love to, though I’d clear it with King Dave first.

            I gotta say, though, it’s a lot more fun watching you guys than fretting over those monthly drafts. Despite how easy you guyziz make it look with your deft funny name writing, I know now that easy it aint!

          • markbialczak says:

            I love that quote. Easy it ain’t. Bumper stickers everywhere, Diddy!

      • markbialczak says:

        Misfit Word Folk? Is that why I’ve had a hard time pulling my sweaters over my head since I joined this cast, Liz? (Or was it Thanksgiving dinner?)

        And wdydfae hasn’t stopped posting! Right? Right?? Right, Wdydie?!

  7. Dave says:

    Amazing! I’m in a 25-minute “breakfast” break between an exam and a lecture, so don’t have time to say much, but that name is AMAZING!!!! I’ll reply with something more substantial later!

  8. Arto says:

    Gotta see Larry Crowne one of these days, any good? At least the parts with Gugu Mbatha Raw must be pretty amazing!

  9. Funny names ? I was 9 before I found out my name wasn’t Hey You.

  10. That’s an insane name. I’ve just tried to say it out loud at least five times, and none of them worked.

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