African-Americans Are Giving Their Childlren African Names or Changing Their Own Names to Acknowledge Their Ancestry A NOD TO AFRICA

By Taylor, Alliniece | The Florida Times Union, May 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

African-Americans Are Giving Their Childlren African Names or Changing Their Own Names to Acknowledge Their Ancestry A NOD TO AFRICA


Taylor, Alliniece, The Florida Times Union


********** CORRECTION MAY 5, 2000

Jameela Afi-Leigh said her dauthter's name, Chinyere, means "God's gift" in Ibo. Because of a reporter's error, a story on Page C-1 Monday had the wrong meaning.

***************

Naseema Maat's intellectual journey to learn about Africa influenced her life -- even how she named her children.

"I wanted to give my children a piece of their history by naming them an African name," said Maat, mother of three.

Each of her sons bear Swahili names she researched: 5-year-old Nyjah, which means warrior; 3-year-old Malik, meaning king; and infant Nyair, which means blessing.

"When you give yourself an African name, you reclaim who you are. You're acknowledging the African part of who you are," she said.

Maat is among African-Americans who are choosing names of African origin for their children.

Some black Americans also change their own birth names to African names because they say it connects them to their ancestry. Names can be chosen from Swahili or Arabic languages. Some choose names from tribes, such as the Ibo in Nigeria, or other ethnic groups such as the Akan in Ghana. Darlene Hill, who gave her children African and Arabic names, said she's noticed more African-Americans choosing ethnic names for their children because it's powerful.

"People are reaching into something that has some meaning to it," she said.

SOUL NAME

Jacksonville professor Alfred K. Boateng, who was raised in Ghana, Africa, said it is possible for anyone to choose a "soul name" if a person knows the day of the week he or she was born.

Boateng's middle name, Kwasi, means he was born on a Sunday. The first name he gave his son is Kwabena, which means his son was born on a Tuesday. The Akan believe these soul names were given to each person from God.

"The day you are born is so significant," Boateng said. "It's part of you until the day you die."

Maat said her first name, which is similar to her husband's name of Naseem, is Swahili and means one who searches for the truth. Her last name, also Swahili, means truth, justice and balance.

Maat said when she tried to learn as much as she could about Africa, she learned more about herself.

"You start to adopt all the things about Africa," she said. "The final destiny of that transformation is your name, to me. Your name becomes who you are and who you want to be."

GOD'S GIRL Jameela Afi-Leigh said she changed her name for personal reasons, but she gave her children Arabic and African names because they have meaning.

"I just wanted them to have something they could live up to. Something over their minds and their hearts," Afi-Leigh said. "Their names will be a constant reminder of what they should be doing."

Afi-Leigh said her first name, Jameela, is Arabic and means beautiful, while Afi is Swahili for spiritual things. Afi-Leigh named her daughter Chinyere, which is Ibo for God's girl. Afi-Leigh's son, Ramadan, is named for the Muslim holy month, during which he was born.

"I'm sure it added to their character," Afi-Leigh said. "They're very proud children and have a high self-esteem."

Adults often take a personal journey to find or decide on their names.

Shadidi Amma, who used to be Stephanie Bryant, said her mother wrote down characteristics that described her and those traits were translated into Swahili.

Amma is Ibo for girl born on Saturday and Shadidi means dedicated and committed.

The new identity inspires her to always push herself, she said.

"Anything that I have a task to do, I have to be committed and dedicated and live up to it," Amma said.

BLESSING

Names for children can be found in books, on the Internet, through friends and family or among the stars -- superstars that is.

Pamela Chambers said she named her son after Los Angeles Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar because he was her idol and his name was different. …

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