To destroy the sovereignty of a people, you must destroy their name. A name is ones direct link to ones history, ones culture, and thus to ones psychological bearings – all three of the critical factors described by Cheik Anta Diop as essential to a peoples total cultural identity.
It has always been tradition in original cultures to bestow an individuals true name after he or she has come through a rite of passage, or has come into consciousness. We Black men and women in America know that our names were taken from us. Therefore, our European imposed names are yet another debilitating psychological reminder that we are cut off from our origins.
Perhaps by reclaiming our cultural names and beginning tradition anew can we start move back into consciousness and sovereignty.
To give you an idea of the importance of ones name, lets look at some older cultures, as well as how the process is used in Black conscious groups like the Nation of Islam and the Nation of Gods and Earths.
Traditional Naming Ceremonies in Africa
While most cultures of the world have their own specific naming ceremonies, there are aspects that are unique to African ceremonies.
Also referred to as the Bini or Benin ethnic group, the Edo are the descendants of the people who founded the Benin Empire, which is located in South/Mid-Western Nigeria now called Edo State.
The traditional ceremony is usually a female affair that is performed on the seventh day after birth. Before 10 am, family elders and very close friends gather to consult oracles and pray for the child and its parents.
During the main program of the ceremony, all are seated with males on one side and females on the other side of the living room. The mother who is gorgeously dressed for the occasion holds the child. The eldest male representative of the head of the family says the opening prayers in Edo language with Kola-nuts and drinks. He breaks the nuts and shares them.
The eldest female member of the family now takes up the remaining activities of the evening. She will ask the mother of the child what she calls the child. The same question is asked seven times. On each of the first six occasions the mother will give an unthinkable name to the child (like Donkey Kong) which the other women will reject. In response to the seventh question, the elders whisper the childs name to the father, who then whispers it to the mother, who then announces it publicly. In response, all the women affirm and pray that the child lives long with the parents. Additional prayers, food, and drink follow.
The names given to Edo children pay homage to their king or their homeland. Examples of Edo names include:
“Iyalekhuoba”: You are forgiven for the sake of the King
“Obayantor”: The King owns the land
“Edorisiagbon”: Edo land is the center of the world
The Akan Naming Ceremony
The Akan, found mainly in Ghana and The Ivory Coast, are the descendants of the founders of the Kingdom of Bonoman. From the 15th century to the 19th century the Akan people dominated gold mining and trading in the region and, from the 17th century on, they were among the most powerful groups in west Africa.
Traditionally, Akan children receive their name according to the day of the week they are born into the world. The Akan naming ceremony begins and ends before sunrise. Unlike the Edo, it is the father that has the responsibility of naming the child. The Elders gather for prayers and libations, and invoke the presence of their honored ancestral spirits (called Nananom Nsamanfo) to help with the ceremony. After the name is acquired, the infant is given to an Elder from the father’s side of the family who announces the child’s name to the world for the first time.
There are two cups ritually utilized during the ceremony. One cup contains water and the other nsa (wine). The Elder dips his index finger into the water and places it on the mouth of the infant saying, “When you say it is water, it is water.” He dips his index finger into the nsa and places it on the mouth of the infant saying, “When you say it is nsa, it is nsa.” This is repeated three times. This is done to instill within the infant a sense of truth. Whether the consequences of truthfulness leave a pleasant taste in your mouth (water) or a difficult taste in your mouth (nsa), honesty must be upheld.
The remainder of the water and nsa in the two cups is then mixed together and given to the parents, that they may participate in the ritual in unity with their child. The parents are here confirming the importance of the moral lesson taught to the child and at the same time vowing to reinforce this lesson throughout the life of the child. The stability of the family is directly related to the stability of the community, and the parents are making their vow before Nyame (God), Nyamewaa (Goddess), Asaase Afua (Earth Mother), the Abosom (Divinities/Goddesses and Gods), the Nananom Nsamanfo (Honored Ancestresses and Ancestors) and the family. – Courtesy of Africa Within
As Akanfo (Akan people), we recognize the name to be intimately expressive of the function for which Nyamewaa-Nyame (Goddess-God, the Supreme Being) has conceived and fashioned us and Asaase Afua (Earth Mother) has borne us. This is precisely why during the periods of enslavement and colonialization our Afurakani/Afuraitkaitnit (African) names were and continue to be replaced with the foreign names/labels of our absolute enemies, the whites and their offspring. These perverse names/labels are totally devoid of power and consciousness, and are directly antagonistic to our spiritual development and endeavor.
Examples of Akan names include:
Asabe (Saturday child female)
Balarabe (Wednasday child male)
Danasabe (Saturday child male
Jummai (Friday child Female)
Renaming in the Nation of Islam and the Nation of Gods and Earths
Names in the Nation of Gods and Earths are taken once a man or woman enters the Nation. Names appear to be based on the Supreme Alphabet (read more about it here), and are most likely self subscribed – sovereignty being a principle of the 5 Percent. Some members keep their European imposed first names, but replace their last names with an element from the Supreme Alphabet, similar to the way members of the Nation of Islam keep their first names and replace the last name with an X.
Examples of NGE names include:
I Master Allah Self Savior Universe (IMASSU)
Queen Mother Supreme
Supreme Universal Master Cipher Allah
Members of the Nation of Islam go through three renaming stages; 1) Separating from their imposed last names 2) Adopting the letter X to symbolize their unknown original last names, and finally 3) adopting a traditional Islamic name that either pays homage to a prominent figure in Islamic history (Muhammad, is a popular one for obvious reasons), or describes ones character.
Examples of Islamic names include:
Abdul-Nasser (which means Servant of the Helper, Granting Victory)
Mahdy (Guided to the Right Path)
Asad (Lion Hearted)
Samir (Entertaining Companion)
Sulayman (A renowned Prophet)
Japanese, Indian, and Christian Naming Ceremonies
Naming ceremonies weren’t indigenous to Africa, but were regarded all over the world. Three examples include the Samurai, Hindu, and Judeo- Christian cultures.
The Samurai of Japan would have multiple names that marked their progression through childhood, into adulthood, and finally into death.
At birth, a samurai was given a one-word “nick name” name by which he would be known until his coming of age ceremony. In a well-known example, Takeda Shingen was born Katsuchiyo, or ’1000 Victories in Succession’, or, simply, ‘Victory Forever’. By tradition, the eldest son in a household was known as ‘Taro’, the second, ‘Jiro’, and the third, ‘Saburo’.
A samurai typically received his ‘first’ adult name at his coming of age ceremony (normally conducted in his 14th year). Here, he received his first name, given to him by the Shogun, or a person of honor, and his last name.
Some samurai, especially lords, might opt to change their name at some future date, often as a result of a reward or title bestowed upoon them, or to pay homage to one of their superiors. Date Masamune, for example, was given the honorific family name Hashiba by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. During the 1590′s he became close to Tokugawa (Matsudaira) Ieyasu and as a way of demonstrating his loyalty in a unsubtle gesture, he changed his family name to Matsudaira.
The final name a samurai would assume was his death name, given to him posthumously-essentially, a spirit name, and in some cases to mark his ascent into heaven. This would be used in ceremonies and observances regarding ancestor worship.
The Indian (Hindu) Naming Ceremony
The Hindu Naamkaran (or Naming Ceremony) takes place on the twelfth day after childbirth and is predominantly a ladies’ function. On the appointed day, female relatives and friends arrive to participate in this colorful ceremony. Once everyone is present, the newborn is placed in a jhula (cradle) decorated with colorful flowers and ribbons. All the women gather around the jhula and sing the traditional naming ceremony songs rhyming with the newborn’s name. Traditionally, the female participants used to bring rice grains and sugar along with toys to mark this auspicious event. Hindus name their children based on Hindu raashis (Vedic Zodiac Signs) to bring the child good fortune.
Judeo-Christian (Papal and Royal) Naming Ceremony
Pages and pages can be written about Chistian baptismal naming, but specifically, the process of renaming can be seen amongst European popes and Kings
Beginning in the sixth century, popes adopted a new name upon their accession to the papacy; this became customary in the 10th century, and every pope since the 16th century has done so. Often the new pontiff’s choice of name upon being elected to the papacy is seen as a signal to the world of who the new pope will emulate, what policies he will seek to enact. Such is the case with Benedict XVI – it was speculated that he chose the name because he wished to emulate the last Pope Benedict.
Immediately after a new pope is elected, and accepts the election, he is asked, “By what name shall you be called?” The new Pope chooses the name by which he will be known from that point on. The senior Cardinal Deacon then appears on the balcony of Saint Peter’s to proclaim the new Pope, informing the world of the man elected Pope, and under which name he would be known during his reign.
The same practice is taken up by Kings, and usually follows a lineage.
So Whats in a Name?
Notice the importance that all sophisticated cultures placed on properly naming their descendants. Children are not given names before they are born, nor are names from other cultures used. Names arent randomly chosen – they are carefully and deliberately given with inspiration from ancestors and spiritual authorities. They knew that a persons name is an essential component of his or her spiritual anatomy.
So for Black men and women in America: our names must come to represent our history, culture, and consciousness properly. It confirms identity, ancestry, honor, and sovereignty.Our names must pay homage to our honored ancestors; the fathers of medicine, architecture, astronomy, and mathematics as well as the mothers who are the only legitimate keepers of royal blood lineage.
So whats in a name? Everything.