Monday, 12 December 2011

An African Name Asserts One's Africanness And Makes Racial Identification Easier

In my African history writings and teachings, I have always referred to Jamaican heroine and maroon leader as Nana, a good Ghanaian name befitting her status as an esteemed elder and leader, instead of the English corrupted version, Nanny.

Recently, I discovered that even students who had been taught about Chartist leader and workers' rights activist William Cuffy, were not aware that he was African. This is why I now spell his name Kofi, a typical Ghanaian name, instead of the better known corrupted version. This way there's no confusion that he's African.

This is why we recommend that Africans without African names should consider adopting an African name in order to assert their Africanness, and also make their racial identity obvious without the aid of a photo or a video.

Copied below is a letter I wrote to The Voice newspaper in response to the 'What's In A Name?' article by historian SI Martin, plus another letter I wrote responding to a number of issues, including a response to my first letter.


'Embrace Your Roots'
November 17-23 2011, p.13

I read Steve Martin’s ‘What’s in a name?’ with interest, and would like to add to his query. I appreciate the fact that European or so-called “Christian” names were imposed on our diasporic brothers and sisters as part of the process of stripping them of their identity. What is however interesting from Martin’s piece, is the fact that after the abolition, when it would seem they had a choice because they were supposedly free, the number of people in Barbados, for example, who had African names actually fell, compared to during the period of enslavement!

Sadly, a similar situation has taken place on the African continent, where European colonisation, plus so-called “Christianisation”, meant Africans were either forced to or chose to adopt partially or fully European or “Christian” names. Hence it’s common for Africans, including present day presidents, to be called names like Goodluck Johnson or John Atta Mills. How many people from the Indian sub-continent, which was colonised by Britain, have European names such as John Patel, or Paul Gladstone, for example?

Names, and the correct spelling of names, are very important. During my African history presentations, I spell Jamaican national hero and Maroon leader not as the corrupted Nanny, but Nana, which befits her African royal roots in Ghana. Recently, I heard someone say that they learnt about William Cuffay, the British Chartist workers’ rights activist, but never realised he was African. It is for this reason that I now spell his name Kofi, the correct way of spelling the Ghanaian day name – the same goes for Nana’s brother who is better known by the corrupted spelling Cuffy.

I’m presently in the process of making a documentary focused on African identity, and have two questions especially aimed at my diasporic family: particularly in 2011, the UN Year For People Of African Descent, are you ready to embrace your Africanness, by calling yourself African instead of black, and like Kwame Kwei Armah, by either swapping your European names in favour of African names, or at least adding an African name to what you have?


BTWSC (Beyond The Will Smith Challenge) project designer

(Unpublished 12 December 2011)
I would like to briefly respond to three items in recent editions. Although the headline (Re: 'We're Not A Black Band - We're JLS!') was not from a direct quote from the band, I think it’s a bit naïve of them to think race does not play a significant role in the success of artists. For example, it does determine the level of marketing budget, and the openings available to an artist.

People may not say it to them directly, but I wonder what makes Oritsé Williams think that people seeing JLS do not think “that’s a black band”? Or has commercial success meant they’ve transcended the race issue, as opposed to their pre-X Factor days, when the same group, then known as UFO, were a “black band” involved in the Urban Voice competitions?

Interestingly, in the same paper, there was a piece on jazz musician Soweto Kinch (Re: We Shouldn’t Be Ashamed To Say ‘Black’). I concur with Soweto when he says “we can be very apologetic because the word ‘black’ is often seen as political and no one wants to rock the boat.” I have no problem with a music genre called “black music”, but I prefer people of African heritage to be called African, African British, or African Caribbean.

Finally, regarding Lorraine’s letter (‘Africans Unite’), which was in response to my letter (‘Embrace Your Roots’), despite the opportunities offered by DNA in tracing one’s genealogy, I do not think people necessarily need to go through the expense of tracing their lineage to a particular area in Africa. It’s important to accept that one’s African, then through books or online search, choose an African name which one likes. An easy start may be to investigate the day names given based on day of birth in Ghana.


BTWSC (Beyond The Will Smith Challenge) project designer

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