For several years motorists driving down the N3 highway on their annual holiday to "Durbs by the Sea" have seen the sign "Welcome to eThekwini".

Many simply thought that eThekwini was the Zulu name for Durban and carried on driving.

However, according to the mayor of the eThekwini Municipality, Obed Mlaba, eThekwini is derived from the word for a bull's testicle.

The Daily News in Durban reported on Wednesday that Mlaba was embarrassed by the name, which has been applied to the municipality for the past five years.

He was quoted as saying: "If you unpack what eThekwini means, it just doesn't sound right. A lot of people overseas have asked: 'What does eThekwini mean?'. Then you start saying, 'Well, you see, ummm, please pass me the milk for my tea' because you are not proud to unpack what it means."

Mlaba, though, was mayor of the city when the name was introduced five years ago.

There are those who question whether the mayor's understanding is correct.

The Inkatha Freedom Party's (IFP) eThekwini caucus leader, Themba Nzuza, said: "It's weird. Where does he get that?"

Asked if eThekwini meant bull's testicle, she replied adamantly: "Not at all. Maybe in his little home town it means that."

There are those in his party, the African National Congress, who do not want to comment.

Zandile Gumede, the head of the municipality's Masakhane, grants-in-aid, non-racism, non-sexism committee, which is responsible for overseeing the renaming process, refused to tell Sapa what she thought eThekwini meant.

"Ask the mayor," she said. When pressed about her understanding of the word, she put down the phone.

According to the online Zulu/English dictionary, www.isizulu.net, eThekwini means the "locative of itheku" and itheku means lagoon or harbour.

The KwaZulu-Natal arts, culture and tourism department had a different understanding.

Spokesperson Ncumisa Fandesi said eThekwini was a corruption of the original name for Durban's harbour - Twekeni - and that came from the word ithekwa.

Ithekwa, she said was the word for a bull that had only one testicle.

The department's view was backed up by the head of the University of Zululand's Zulu and heritage studies professor, Zamokwake Khumalo, who said that ithekwa "refers to the bull, an abnormal situation. Bulls should have both, you know."

He emphasised that ithekwa did not refer to the testicle but to the bull, who would traditionally not be allowed to mate with the cows as it would be viewed as a bad omen.

"It (the bull) would get slaughtered or castrated."

The mayor's comments are likely to further fan the flames of discontent over the city's renaming woes. In May more than 10 000 IFP and DA supporters marched in protest after a list of proposed name changes was published in daily newspapers.

The municipality agreed to an extension to allow residents to object to the changes, mostly of street names.

However, many residents' objections did not reach the municipality at first, as some postal authorities had not realised that Victoria Embankment had been changed to Margaret Mncadi Avenue. A housewife received several of the objections at her home on Margaret Maytom Avenue in Durban North.

The Independent on Saturday reported last week that Durban would be renamed KwaKhangela, but Mlaba and eThekwini municipal manager Mike Sutcliffe have been adamant that Durban will stay. It was the name of the municipality that could possibly change to KwaKhangela.

Sutcliffe said on Thursday that the process of name changes was not complete.

"We are marketing the city as Durban."

Attempts to reach Mlaba for comment were unsuccessful.

According to the Democratic Alliance opposition the city has spent millions changing letterheads and signs from the former name of Durban Metropolitan Municipality. Before 1996, when municipalities in the greater Durban area were merged into one, it was known as the Durban Corporation.

The DA's eThekwini caucus leader John Steenhuisen said: "... in the rush to rename the municipality, not enough research and consultation was put into the proposed name and this has obviously led to the embarrassment... to which the mayor alludes. Perhaps there is a lesson in that?" - Sapa