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What is the Significance of a Name

Updated on April 26, 2011
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

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 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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