Read an Excerpt
Introduction: Born Again
In the Beginning
The bird flies, but always returns to earth.
I adore African names. They feel elegant to my ear and enthuse my tongue. I appreciate their sounds and meanings, which are different from the names of North America. Each time a person calls me by my African name, he or she reminds me my roots are indeed in Africa.
In the last twenty years, I have been blessed to have been consulted in the naming of hundreds of babies and in the renaming of hundreds of children and adults. Naming in African societies is more of a communal process than in other societies; in fact, it is common for parents, young people, or adults to consult with community members or African Studies practitioners before bestowing a name upon an infant, or upon themselves.
In the case of a child born eight years ago, we named him Jasir Dia. Each time a person speaks to Jasir, they are calling him a 'fearless champion,' and a 'winner.' We believe his name helps and influences Jasir's life, and we expect him to become all that his name implies long after his parents and other family members have passed on.
Recently, we named an infant male Qadir Rai Lumumba. When we call to him, we are saying, 'competent, healthy one who is gifted.' In the case of a child born five years ago, we named her Zindzhi Niasha Nubia Haderah. When her family and friends call to her, they are saying, 'warrior with purposeful life,' 'I have seen it,' and 'lioness.' The circumstances surrounding her birth and desired characteristics influenced our choice of name for her. Zindzhi was born as her mother was leaving earth. So, while three of her names reflect desired characteristics, we chose one of her names, Nubia, to tie Zindzhi's birth to her mother, and to honor the unforgettable woman who passed on before us.
We named another man-child Mujasi Zibusiso, ('courageous fighter,' 'blessing.') In addition, as I write this, our community is awaiting the arrival of a girl child whom we will name Sadmia ('she suits me,' 'well matched'). The name that awaits this baby is the name of her maternal aunt, who passed on before us.
After Birth: Renaming Later in Life
Let each bird cry according to its kind.
Choosing an African name does not have to happen shortly after birth. Across the world, individuals take on new names during the life cycle. In Mali, the Bobo people characteristically give children as many as three different names during a life cycle. The Bobo give children a name seven days after birth, another name when they begin to walk, and another name when they complete an initiation or rites of passage ritual. (The Bobo use their second and third names during special or religious events). Many African individuals receive new names when marrying, or when reaching an important milestone or achievement.
New names can represent new stages of development. Sojourner Truth, Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and El Haj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X) all took on new names as adults. I have helped a number of people change their names to African names later in life, because they believed the names they were given at birth were 'slave names' and that claiming an African name would link them to their motherland or ancestral home.
Therefore, with my help, Cleve Bowie became Tahleb Obike ('seeker of truth,' 'strong household'); Chris Johnson became Kojo Ayinde ('unconquerable,' 'we asked for him and he came'); Tiffany Hawkins became Kimya Shekayo Amachi ('quiet passion,' 'who knows what God will bring us through this one'); and Will Anderson became Jasiri Kafele ('fearless one,' 'worth dying for'). These individuals requested new names as they became more politically mature. We chose their names essentially for meaning, but also for aesthetic value. Tess McGhee became Aliyinza Ilizi Khanyiswa Myemyela ('she will be able to handle it,' 'charm against lions,' 'she reflects the light,' 'smile'). Aliyinza had a naming ceremony during her pregnancy. We choose a new name for her to guide her birthing journey and to bless the way of the forthcoming child.
Everlasting Life: Why African Names?
If you understand the beginning well,
the end will not trouble you.
I promote the use of African names for several reasons. First, the importance of African culture is often minimized, leading to the exclusion of African names from many name books. This negligence deprives parents, researchers, students, and other readers of the philosophy and wisdom of African societies. Also, since many traditional and modern African societies tend to rely on and emphasize oral communication more than written communication, I want to contribute to as much of a written record of African names as possible, particularly since Africans are no longer in one rather large area, but are scattered across the planet.
Numerous names in this book are based on my experience with, personal knowledge of, and longtime, passionate interest in Africana. I learned many names as I traveled to different places on the African continent. Other names I learned when I studied Kiswahili3. Still, other names came to me during the six years I was a professor of Black Studies at the university level. Naturally, I have also been collecting, studying, and gathering African names from books, novels, and literature. As a result of the richness of the African continent, my personal collection now exceeds 7,000 African names.
Each African name book I have studied has something to offer. Likewise, each book has vulnerabilities. Thus, The African Book of Names borrows best practices from each name book to strengthen, not to compete with, extant African name literature. My goal has been to build upon the foundation other African name books have established by creating a balanced and comprehensive text. However, an exhaustive text would require more than one volume because of the countless African names that exist, many in languages and from cultures with which I am not familiar.
If you're looking for an African name, you can choose one of the more than 5,000 names from a range of cultures and languages in this book. I celebrate Africa's cultural contributions by sharing a broad array of potential first, last, organization, and business names from at least thirty-seven African countries and at least seventy of Africa's ethnolinguistic groups.
While the birth of a baby is a joyous time that creates a need to choose a name, The African Book of Names does not focus solely on baby names. Individuals of any age can embrace this collection to select names for themselves, organizations, events, or other entities.
It has been my honor, privilege, and duty to design The African Book of Names to guide, inform, instruct, inspire, and interest. Let it be known this book is guided by a spiritual, social, political, and academic acknowledgment of Africa as the absolute birthplace of humankind. Indeed, The African Book of Names unapologetically celebrates Africa as a beating heart of the world.
Askhari Hodari, Ph.D.
©2009. Askhari Hodari, Ph.D. All rights reserved. Reprinted from The African Book of Names. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442
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