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What’s in a Name?

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What’s in a Name?

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By Bashir Akinyele

The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad (NOI), one of the Afrikan American founders of the Nation of Islam, taught Afrikan Americans to go free in name, as well as in fact! He taught Afrikan Americans that white slave owners forced Black people to give up their Afrikan and their Islamic names in American and European slavery. And on another level, the white slave masters replaced our beautiful Afrikan and Islamic names with the name nigger. (But for you Hip Hop heads to understand what I mean, the white slave masters replace our beautiful Afrikan and Islamic names with the word nigga!) This was an effort by the slave masters to legally and officially disconnect and de-center Black people from their Afrikan and Islamic cultures. Because of this true history of slavery, many followers of his movement gave up their slave names. They received the X, which represented the stolen Afrikan or Islamic name. For example like Malcolm X. When he came through the Nation of Islam, he was given the name Malcolm X. He dropped the slave name Little. But when he left the Nation of Islam, and grew in Al-Islam and Black consciousness, he took on the name Omawele El Hajj Malik El Shabazz. The name Omawele is from the Yoruba nation of Nigeria in West Afrika. It means a Child Comes Home. El Hajj is the name you receive when you take your Islamic pilgrimage to the Holy City of Makkah, Saudi Arabia as a Muslim. It is actually spelled in English as Al Hajj. Shabazz was his Nation of Islam name he received in the organization. It means the lost tribe of Black people.

The Nation of Islam was so powerful and influential in the black community in the 1950’s, 60’s, and early 70’s that many non Afrikan American NOI members began to change their slave names to Afrikan and Islamic names. They wanted names that would not identify them with American and European slavery.

When Imam Warith Deen Muhammad, the seventh son of the Most Elijah Muhammad came into the leadership of the Nation of Islam in 1975, he led the largest conversion of Afrikan Americans to Al-Islam in American history. With this move, many newly converted Afrikan American Muslims began to change their names from the X to Islamic names. In time, even Imam Warith Deen Muhammad changed his birth name from Wallace Deen Muhammad to Warith Deen Muhammad. He fully embraced his Black and Islamic culture by completely changing his slave first name to an Islamic name.

When the Black Power Movement burst on the scene in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, it challenged Afrikan Americans to culturally accept their Blackness.

Greatly Influenced by the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam and his student Malcolm X, Black Power leaders like Dr. Maulana Karange, Imamu Amiri Baraka ( formerly Leroy Jones), Amina Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Maya Angelou, Kwame Ture’ ( formerly Stokely Carmichael), Original Black Panther Party founders Dr. Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, began to wake Afrikan Americans up to the fact that their slave names was a by-product of European colonialism, racism, and white supremacy. They taught that one way to fight white cultural oppression was to give up your slave name and replace it with an Afrikan name.

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The Black Power Movement understood that a redefined Afrikan identity was absolutely necessary for Black Liberation.

In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, there was a resurgence of Black Consciousness. Leaders like MinIster Louis Farrakhan, Dr Khalid Abdul Muhammad, Minister Conrad Muhammad (now Rev. Conrad Tillard), Sistah Souljah, attorney Malik Zulu Shabazz, Ras Baraka, and Hip Hop artists Chuck D and KRS-1, contributed to this new movement for Black Power and Black Identity.

This is why, and how, I legally and officially changed my slave name to Bashir Muhammad Akinyele when I grew in love with Al-Islam and Black consciousness in the 1990’s.

I became Bashir Muhammad Akinyele in the Muslim Ummah (Community) and in the black conscious community. I am now Bashir Muhammad Akinyele outside of the Muslim Ummah (Community) and outside of the Black conscious community. I am now Bashir Muhammad Akinyele on all my bills, Insurance papers, marriage certificates, birth certificates, work IDs, credit cards, teacher licenses, driver licenses, the media, social media, and social security cards.

If you call my house, my wife and my children will tell you that my husband’s and my father’s name is Bashir Muhammad Akinyele.

The name Bashir is Arabic for one who brings good news. Muhammad is Arabic for One Worthy of Praise or Who Praises Much. The name Akinyele is Yoruba for a Strong One Befits the House.

In February, while I attended Masjid Ibrahim in Newark, NJ for Sataatul Jamaa’ah (Friday’s Congregational Prayer), my good friend, teacher in the Newark Public Schools in New Jersey, and Muslim brother Anthony Timmons told me that he legally, and officially, gave up his slave name. Alhamdulillah! (Praised be to Allah)! His new Islamic name is now Abdul Shaheed, which is Arabic for Servant and Witness Bearer.

I really respected his move to change his name! Brother Abdul Shaheed is one of many brothers and sisters that have, and are, giving up the slave name in America. But what we must learn now is to fully grow our character in these beautiful Afrikan and Islamic names. But that is another lesson for another time family. For now, this is how and why Black people are giving up their slave names in America.

In this new millennium, I wonder who will become the next wave of Black political, cultural, and religious leaders to shape and mold our next generation’s Black Identity.


As Salaamu Alaikum! (May Peace Be Unto You)!
Hotep! (Peace)!

Bashir Muhammad Akinyele
-Community Activist
-Radio Show Producer and Talk Show Host

*Note: The spelling of Afrika, Afrikan, and Afrikan American with a “k” is the Kiswahili word for African. Kiswahili is a Pan Afrikan language spoken in many parts of Afrika. It is also the language of Kwanzaa-the Afrikan American seven day cultural holiday celebrated from December 26 to January 1.


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