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The Significance of African Names

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A Name is a word or small group of words used to indicate a thing -- real or imaginary -- in its entirety. The name singles out the entity or thing by directly pointing to it, not by specifying it as a member of a class.

Through their captors’ language slaves shared not just the names for whatever those new names symbolized but those same new names carried the values, meanings, and rules which shaped and influenced how slaves related to unfamiliar things.

So as to better understand the profound significance of this, let us step back 80,000 years ago and look at some of the first things which were named in Africa. In the beginning those were personal names, quasi-personal names (e.g. “animals”), names given to objects (e.g. rocks), place-names, and names for tribes and similar groups.

Later, names were given to works of art, a product’s brand name, historical events, and for certain concepts and abstractions
Even in later ancient Africa, names had significant meanings -- meanings that came from a higher power. For example, the earliest Egyptians believed personal names were a reflection of one’s soul and helped determine one’s destiny.

As a result, all Africans considered their personal names as powerful, magical, and a foundational part of their being, self-concept (thoughts about who one thinks one is), and self-esteem. This gave rise to the belief that a name could have a magical effect upon others. These ideas found their way into the Bible (Gen. 1:5): God made things known for purposes of expressing the relation of his creatures and to describe to man the essence of his creation by way of names.

This means that there was a conception of identity from the combination of the name and its bearer (Gen. 2:19) -- “as his name is, so is he” (1 Sam. 25:25). To cut off one’s name meant removing him or his descendants from existence (Josh 7:9; 11 Sam 14:7; II Kgs 14:27; Ps 83:4).

This was a carry over from the Bible’s emphasis on exalting the “name of the Lord.” The reason is that in his name God himself is suddenly present with the hearer as he reveals both truth and his very self. The Bible goes on to say that to “take the name of the Lord in vain” (i.e. to treat it as if “God” were an empty, meaningless term or expletive) is serious, for God’s name is an aspect of his essence. These were concepts similar to what Africans had about their personal names before the Bible’s existence as well as at the time Europeans enslaved them.

It was a profoundly self-meaning event -- a shattering of self-being, self-concept and self-esteem -- when each African slave was assigned a slave master’s name. To make matters worse slaves were abruptly and completely removed from all the names associated with what they considered dear -- family, relatives, neighbors, friends, customs, and traditions, native foods and drinks, religions, medical, entertainment, and social structure.

Such identity renaming was the action of brain-washing -- the intensive forcible indoctrinations which replaced the slaves’ basic African convictions with those of the dictators. Some of what the slave owners and slave overseers dictated were:

(1) for the slaves to wipe out their beliefs of who they were as individuals -- i.e. the opposing of all values the slave had ever believed in;

(2) for slaves to take on the self-interest patterns of thinking, feelings, sayings, and behaving of the enslavers;

(3) for slaves to perform robot-like service to benefit Whites;

(4) for slaves to embrace the actions of docilely accepting exploitation;

(5) for slaves to “love” their oppressors; and

(6) for slaves to internalize evil “seed” words and behaviors that would cause beliefs of inferiority, sub-humanness, self-hatred, and hating fellow slaves.

Joseph A. Bailey, II, M.D

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