What’s in a name? How Ralph Rabie became Johannes Kerkorrel.

Ralph John Rabie was a very shy man.

At first he used sunglasses, and then (on the Voëlvry tour) swimming goggles to hide his eyes from the audience to help him to overcome his shyness during live performances.

Rabie also took on another name and became known as ‘Johannes Kerkorrel’. Kerkorrel in Afrikaans means ‘church organ’. Rabie had seen the name ‘Johannus Kerk Orrels’ in a shop window in Cape Town. Rabie said that anyone called Johannes Kerkorrel, had to be ‘the ultimate fucked up, Calvinistic prude’.

Given the significance of the NGK in South African and in particular, Afrikaner culture at that time, the name proved to be extremely controversial. Rabie said that he played Johannes Kerkorrel as a character and that he loved to do this.

He acknowledged that this alter ego was not at all what he was like in his private life. Johannes Kerkorrel was arrogant and had attitude, whilst Rabie was more introverted. Rabie also said that he found the change in personality that was brought about in him when he was playing his extroverted alter ego a little scary since he was sometimes unable to switch the Kerkorrel character off, once it had been turned on.

In later years, Rabie maintained that he also had used the name for a more practical reason – to separate Rabie the journalist from Rabie the performer. When asked about what the difference between Ralph Rabie and Johannes Kerkorrel was, he replied that Kerkorrel was an acrobat driven by adrenalin, whilst Rabie was a normal person who tried to balance between being good and bad. Many had accused him of blasphemy for using this alias, but Rabie maintained that this was never the reason why he chose it.

After Rabie’s death in 2002, the owner of the organ shop that had inspired him to take on the alias, “Johannes Kerkorrel” had to issue a statement declaring that he had not died. Aarnout de Muynck who owned the music shop “Johannus Kerkorrels” complained that all the publicity surrounding the death of Rabie had led his clients to mistakenly believe that it was de Muynck who had passed away, believing that he was “Johannes Kerkorrel”.

Johannes Kerkorrel Willem Möller on stage during the Voëlvry tour

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