What’s my name?
“Your name is Toby. I want to hear you say it. What’s your name?”
Do you remember the movie “Roots”? Kunta Kinte was being whipped by the slave driver to submit to the name “Toby”. Now, why would a driver work so hard just to hear a slave say his name is Toby? What was the point? His only job was to work in the fields. On the other hand, why would an enslaved endure so much punishment just to hang onto the name of his parents? There must be something about the names we carry.
If we look at history, as it repeats itself, we can see there is a link between captivity and name change. During the days of Daniel after the Israelites were taken as captives, one of the first things the King Nebuchadnezzar did was to change their names to Babylonian names. Daniel, meaning Eloheim (God of Israel) is my Judge, was changed to Belteshazzar. So every time someone said “Daniel” it was like a prayer giving glory to the God of Israel. Belteshazzar was a Babylonian name that gave glory to the idol they worshipped. Hananiyah, Mishael and Azariah were changed to Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego. Even when Joseph sojourned in Egypt Pharaoh changed his name. There must be some kind of power or spirit released when we call a name. It is no wonder people in the ancient times gave their children thoughtful, meaningful names.
Africans, slavery was part of your history and you lost your culture, heritage and names. We took on the slave masters names. These names have no meaning and are not linked to the Creator in any way, names such as Montgomery, Mark and Billy. No disrespect to persons carrying those names but what is the meaning? The only thing our names link us to is our slave masters. If a slave was sold to another plantation, his name was changed to reflect the “massa” of that plantation. If a slave was found off the plantation, the patrollers would ask him to whom he belongs.
I recently came across an African mood movie with someone by the name of ‘Godknowsbest’ What a powerful name, I thought. Every time some calls him/her it’s like a mini prayer. Wouldn’t you prefer a name that gives glory to the Almighty Creator? People would be calling a blessing on you every time they say your name and in these trying times we need a blessing. Names such as Godknowsbest, Blessings, Proverbs are beautiful names. Be creative.
As is evident in African culture, parents name their children differently than what we learned from the Colonialists. The acknowledgement of the Creator is always high on the African agenda. Our spirits are different. It is only in these modern times we see more African people with European names but when was the last time you saw a European with an African name?. This is due to cultural imperialism, an inferior mindset and the need to have a “Christian name”. It would seem as if God came from London, England.
So Joseph, Daniel, Hananiyah, Mishael, Azariah, Kunta Kinte, Montgomery and most of you reading this letter had to undergo name change. In slavery our families had to give up their names to survive. We don’t have to today, so let’s put some thought into what we name our children. I urge you to seek names that reflect your heritage, culture and the Great Creator. One of my best friends had a child recently and named her Ahooviyah. The name means “God is my love”, and may God show love to that child.
During the Diwali season I was in a bank and was amazed to see how beautiful the staff looked in their traditional Indian wear. I made the comment to the teller and added that this should be the dress everyday. The teller responded by stating that this type of dress is not appropriate for work. In that teller’s mind only the European ‘suit and tie’ was appropriate and that day was just a wear-a –costume to work day.
It is such a mindset that reminds me that Independence is not a one time signing of a document but a continuous work-in- progress. Even as we celebrate our Emancipation let’s work on ourselves being independent thinkers.
“Children get your culture, or you won’t get no supper”
Just think about it.