What is the Significance of a Name

Origins of African Slaves
Origins of African Slaves

The Significance of A Name

Today I found out the name of a woman who lives around the corner from my house. I have been walking and talking with this woman for the last six months almost every day. You see we walk our sons to the bus on school days and after the kids get on the bus, we walk back together to our homes. We usually small talk about the weather - how cold, rainy, cloudy or hot; we talked about our children, our family even our places of origins, but we never exchanged names. This morning as we walked back from the bus, she asked me what was my name. I was surprised how un-important that small yet major detail was to our friendship. I told her my name and she told me hers. I realized that her name was a familiar name that I have heard many times in my childhood.

I hastened to tell her that her name was familiar in my country of origin. We began to speak about our heritage and history. Then we realized that we not only have a shared history because we were both from countries that were colonized, but we had a shared culture as well. Christopher Columbus thought that he was on his way to the East Indies, when he ended up in the Caribbean, so he named it the West Indies.

On first blush, I did not think that we would share so much in common. Even though historically I know that India like the Caribbean was colonized in the 1600s, I never thought about our commonalities. For instance, similarities in some foods, names of people and places. Her question about name brought up so many details of our shared past, after all, the continent of Africa separates us. That got me to thinking about the significance of a name.

Why didn't I ask this woman's name before? Do I like her anymore since I know her name? Did I find out more information about her since I know her name? Do I feel like I have a closer relationship with her now? The answers to these questions are significant in determining the importance of a name.

On further examination of my lack of the common courtesy in finding out her name, I have come to the conclusion that knowing her name did not change how I feel about her. My fondness of her has not changed since I found out her name. I certainly found out more information about her since she told me her name, but I do not think that I have a closer relationship with her even though I have more information about her. I know that to many readers, this will be controversial, but I'll tell you a little about our history and you'll understand, I hope.

I feel that there are no importance or significance attached to my name; I could have well been named X. My name was inherited from the slave owners of my fore-parents. I was not named after a female relative dead or alive or a famous civil rights leader. My first name is not even what my mother had intended to give me, it is a clerk's mistake on my birth registration form. Even though I like my name, it does not mean anything special to me. My last name does not tell you anything about me. It bears the memory of a past I would prefer to forget.

I believe my attitude to knowing this woman's name goes back to my history. To the time when slaves were brought to the New World. They were stripped of their language, their culture and their names. They were given the identify of the Masters. They could not keep their African names. They were the un-named property of the Master. So if the Master's last name was Brown, then the slaves last name became Brown. You can look up slave names at http://theoldentimes.com

Even though slaves were also brought from places like Upper Guinea, Bight of Benin, Bight of Biafra and Senegambia, most of the slaves that were brought to North America and the Caribbean, came from the Gold Coast of Africa. People from these regions have names like Osei, Bonsu, Adowa, Saada or Baba. See http://www.namesite.com for some of the African names.

Like many African Caribbean people, I gave my children local names, so that they can fit into the society that they live. Names that will not disqualify them from that first school or job interview, names that will give them access to the opportunity of living the dream, the American dream. Then there is the name like Barack Obama, the President of the United States of America. One wonders is a name really signifciant?

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Comments 33 comments

glassvisage profile image

glassvisage 7 years ago from Northern California

Great thing to really sit and think about. Interestingly, I often fail to ask a name because I figure it's a less-important quality of a person, and I enjoy other things about them... But you're right: a name can have a whole load of importance!


Tom Cornett profile image

Tom Cornett 7 years ago from Ohio

Good Hub...there may be lots behind a name. thanks! :)


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 7 years ago from Toronto, Canada Author

glassvisage, thanks for your comments. There is so much more about a person than their name.

Tom, you are right a name can point to one's ancestors, if you're able to trace your geneology.. Thanks for the comment.


Dee Park 7 years ago

GREAT HUB!! Very informative. I can see that you are destined for great things. You're writing style is professional, detailed and creative. I can see great things for you in the future!


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 7 years ago from Toronto, Canada Author

Dee Park, thanks for your kind words. Your positive comments means a lot as I start on this new venture.


ClareBaros 7 years ago

This is a wonderful hub. I find myself pondering these same things all the time about names. Thanks so much!


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 7 years ago from Toronto, Canada Author

Thanks ClareBaros. We take a name for granted or some people attach so much to a name. Really what matters is the person.


fastfreta profile image

fastfreta 7 years ago from Southern California

DynamicS, I really love your writing and research. As was stated before, this is something that we don't really give much attention to, perhaps in some cases we should. Very good hub. Keep 'em coming.


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 7 years ago from Toronto, Canada Author

fastfreta, thanks my friend for stopping by. You are right, we don't often think about what we learn or not learn from one's name. I suppose we correctly think of the person's character or at least how they appear to us, rather than make an accessment of them from their name.

Thanks for your kind comments...


Mary Neal profile image

Mary Neal 7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Thanks for the article. It is interesting that I came to your article today. I was told by someone yesterday that the fact that my name is still a "slave name" proves that I have not arrived at a needed level of black conciousness. I see no need to change my name to signify that I reject anyone's mastery over me. Those who see it as a necessity, I certainly honor their decision by calling them by their newly acquired names. Like most African Americans, I do not know what my original family name was. It seems a decision as to whether I would prefer to be named after people who may have sold my foreparents into slavery or those who owned them on this continent. I see no reason to change my name, because I believe that people define their names rather than their names determining who they are.


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 7 years ago from Toronto, Canada Author

Mary Neal, I appreciate your comment. I aqree with you that there is no need to change your given name or give our children names that immediately sounds unusual to them or their peers. Its extremely unfortunate that we lost our names and some of our heritage, but we have to move forward and not be enslaved by the actions of people several hundreds years ago. Like you I believe that a person's character defines who they are, not their names.

Thanks for stopping by...


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 7 years ago from Toronto, Canada Author

Mary Neal, I appreciate your comment. I aqree with you that there is no need to change your given name or give our children names that immediately sounds unusual to them or their peers. Its extremely unfortunate that we lost our names and some of our heritage, but we have to move forward and not be enslaved by the actions of people several hundreds years ago. Like you I believe that a person's character defines who they are, not their names.

Thanks for stopping by...


ixwa profile image

ixwa 7 years ago

Depending from what culture ones comes from, other cultures take naming seriously. Some African say "a bad name, a bad omen" The names given to some people in some parts of Africa really describe your character and who you are and will be. A name can be from one's grandpa because of certain characteristics the elder see in you when you are born. But, your name says many things about who you are and will be. It is also important to visit Africa, because in some countries they will give you your name, maybe because you look like someone or they see certain characteristics in you. The loss of a name is tragic because of slavery. But one can adopt a country in Africa, learn its language, culture, and everything there is to know about it. It is important to visit some countries in Africa and feel the African presence and majority; hear the sounds and voices; listen to the accents and feel the pace and the see the place, whilst looking at the faces and all shades of brown black,and the light faces. This is very good for everyone of African descent taken into slavery whether in the States, Caribbean, Saudi Arabia and so onto make a trip to Africa.


Dynamics 7 years ago

ixwa, thanks for your comment. I appreciate what you said and it is one of the reasons why I will be visiting Ghana in 2010. First I will visit the site where slaves were held up awaiting to be shipped to the New World. Personally I know that this will stir up some strong emotions, but I want to be in touch with my past. As for the name situation, I have since long pass that issue. I will not adapt a name unless I'm really inspired to do so. Even though my name does not mean anything special to me, its the only one I know right now.

Thanks for stopping by and for your great suggestions. see you in the Motherland...


sarmack profile image

sarmack 7 years ago from Washington

There is a lot in a name, it is very important.


Dynamics 7 years ago

sarmack, I'm happy for you that you sound very confident about your name. Not everyone has that fortune, some of us wear our names as the scars of a harsh and brutal history. Thanks for stopping by and for your comment.


Ivorwen profile image

Ivorwen 7 years ago from Hither and Yonder

I've always wondered the importance of names too. The Israelites valued names and their meanings, so I have always figured there is some significance to what we are called. Last names have a way of evolving. Neither my maiden name or my married name is the same now as it was when my ancestors sailed to America.


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 7 years ago from Toronto, Canada Author

Ivorwen, thanks for stopping by and for your comment. It is interesting that you last name was changed. I'm still wondering how that happened. As for the frist name. I suspect that in many cultures it is very significant; as it is usually from a relative or from some signifacnce that's place on the name whether from the Holy Books or a famous person who did something very important to further the human condition.

My wish is that I could trace my ancestory through my name but that is impossible due to the history of my ancestors when they came to the New World. It would be great to know who and what my ancestors were like before they came to the west. Anyway that is all wishful thinking now.

I cannot equate much knowledge to my name; but its the only one I know right now.

Blessings and peace!


SwiftlyClean profile image

SwiftlyClean 6 years ago from Texas

Great Hub, I have allways loved names of people.I never let a person walk away with introduction.A person is the most entersting being to no about.

Thanks for writing

Sharon Smith


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 6 years ago from Toronto, Canada Author

thanks SwiftClean, for your comment and for stopping by. You are right, who the person is more important than their name. Names can be interesting and fun, telling about ones heritage or not; it can tell about their parents' imagination/creativity or not; it can also tell about wanting and wishing of those who chose the name. It can also tell of pain and hurt. A name can be deep or not!

Thanks for stopping by.


SEO IT! profile image

SEO IT! 6 years ago from Tucson, AZ

Great point on how names tell us a lot about a person's heritage and can bring seemingly different people together in commonality!

I also appreciate your insight on how Knowing names doesn't change your point of view regarding your feelings about a person. I feel the same way, even though I've been filled with guilt over not remembering the name of "that sweet lady who works at my daughter's school", the fact that I never remember her name doesn't change what I think of her. However, it may matter to her. She always remembers mine! *guilty*


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 6 years ago from Toronto, Canada Author

SEO IT!, thanks for visiting and for your comments. Our name can be a loaded thing; informing others of all kinds of information about the person. On the other hand, the name is only a label to identify the person, it is not a definition of the person's character.

As we zip along on our busy lives, it definitely great to acknowledge each other. One of the way to do so is my addrssing each other by name. I am always pleasantly surprised when somone remembers my name; it shows that they care or maybe they have excellent memory Lol!

Take care.


Leo F 6 years ago

We may not think about it much but I believe a name bears real importants not only to the individual but to life itself and what I mean by that is we often have an emotional attachment to someone we might admire or we might feel rage toward that or those names which have impacted us; Frederick Douglass, Lana Turner, Louis Armstrong, General Patton, George C. Scott, President John F. Kennedy, Doctor Martin L. King Jr. and the list is endlist. Our name says to others, who we are, we are not just any Bob or any Betty, we are special maybe that name only to you but you know us by name because that name is special to you. No matter where I am when I hear someone with my grandmother's name a history of relationships fill my mind. Years ago people would often say, "I'm going out to make a name for myself." Oh yes, names are very important for it is our footprint in time.


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 6 years ago from Toronto, Canada Author

Hi Leo, thanks for your input in this ongoing discussion regarding the significance of a name. A name can definitely be loaded, not only with positive memories or history but also negative and depressing history. It can remind of the bondage of a people or it can remind of the fortitude, bravery and courage of someone from the past.

You are right, names are footprints, but some of those footprints have taken us through demoralizing places that still cause pain even hundreds years later.

Thanks for you comments.


brandyBachmann profile image

brandyBachmann 6 years ago

this is a good way of showing that we need to appreciate life's simple glories. When a person gives one's name willingly, it means that he/she is also willing to share some part of him/her to you.

Nice reflection & hub :)


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 6 years ago from Toronto, Canada Author

brandy, thanks for your visit and your comment. Indeed, we share apart of ourselves when we introduce ourselves to each other. You could say a name is a loaded thing as it can tell much about someone; even things that might be painful.

Thanks for your kind comment.


Dim Flaxenwick profile image

Dim Flaxenwick 6 years ago from Great Britain

I found this fascinating and must become one of your followers. Looking forward to reading more of your work. Thank you very much


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 6 years ago from Toronto, Canada Author

Dim Flaxenwick, thanks for your visit. I appreciate your comment and I also look forward to reading your posts.


funmontrealgirl profile image

funmontrealgirl 5 years ago from Montreal

DynamicS, how come you always have a readable and fun-to-read hub? I really appreciate writers who divulge in topics often overlooked. You're a great find for an avid reader like me.


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada Author

Thanks funmontrealgirl. I appreciate your kind comments. I'm happy that you enjoy the read. It's interesting how ideas can just pop in a writer's head; something as mundane as a conversation with a neighbour can trigger a hub! Isn't that fun!

Thanks for taking the time to read my post.


FloraBreenRobison profile image

FloraBreenRobison 5 years ago

Thanks for sharing this. there are people I've known for quite a while as Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so but I have no idea what their first names are.

I was named after my grandmother on my mother's side. As for my father's side, they are Catholic, so everyone keeps getting named the same names.

Regarding names being given to you in error-when my great-grandfather and his brother and their wives emigrated to the US from Italy, My great-grandfather came after his brother. Brunie announced that his name was Salerno and then it was Sammy's turn. Only his name wasn't Sammy. He tried to say "Same," as in "Same as him" So he became Sammy Salerno.

And then with so many people named the same thing --Maria, Theresa, or Charles-in the family, people had to give each other nicknames. It wasn't until after my grandparents died that I realized that Grammy called him Robbie as a shortened version for Robison, our last name.


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada Author

FloraBreenRobison, thanks for your visit and for sharing your comment about your family experience regarding their name.

It's surprising to me how many people are impacted by error made in their names. Also how much a name can inform about one's history. I'm still amazed when someone shares with me the histrionics of their names.

Thanks for sharing.


ALCIDE 4 years ago

MY FATHERS NAME TOO

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