“What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” This popular line from William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” is often used by those who don’t understand the importance of names, in their attempt to question the emphasis that so many tend to place on them.
The quote can be interpreted as a call for attention to self-authenticity that one should possess despite whatever title or label they are given. Perhaps the line is referencing the fact that a person, no matter their name, is going to be the person that God intends for them to be. Thinking along the lines that a name in fact holds no meaning the question remains: what exactly is in a name? Well, history is in a name. Tradition is in a name. Lineage, beauty, prosperity, strength and cultural celebration are in a name. Pride is in a name. Distinction is in a name. Appreciation, dignity, and respect can all be found in a name.
It would be superficial thinking to assume that a person is defined solely based upon the merit of their name. A name cannot define a person, but it can definitely give them depth. It would also be superficial thinking to conclude that the name of a person is simply a depiction of that specific person and his or her own personal trials and triumphs in life.
Names go much further than the individual to whom they are attached. They tell stories of communities that no history book could compete with. They draw pictures of glory and greatness that no artist could attempt to illustrate. A name has the power to keep in memory victories of the past and promise prosperity for the future. They’re passed from generation to generation in hopes of restoring, maintaining or creating a sense of honor.
But why is this matter even important? Whom does such a topic concern? Everyone. Especially Africans. It would be easy for African children, teenagers and young adults alike to neglect their names in order to avoid teasing or ridicule from peers who simply don’t understand the significance of these “unorthodox” names.
It’s difficult dealing with complaints from teachers like “Your name is so hard to pronounce” or jokes from classmates claiming that African people’s names contain every letter in the alphabet. It’s an easier life for someone to simply rename them self to avoid all confusion and mockery – people have done just that. In enjoying this simpler life, they must understand that they are letting a part of their self die. By submitting to the pressure of westernization for the sake of temporary accommodation, they are sacrificing respect for the very past that produced them.
African names are a window into a particular ethnic group or relation to some form of African culture or geographical region. They hold meaning and significance that no other name could substitute. The name given to a child at it’s birth is that child’s name. Whether it be Nnamdi, Nneka, Abina, Afua or Ikechuku, a name is to be prided upon and admired. Sadly, honor and pride, in reference to names, are lost traits in the African community. There are people who abandon “Nkechi” and demand that everyone call them Nicki. In doing so, they are concealing their roots and heritage for the convenience and acceptance of a western world that does not understand the roots from which such a name sprung.
Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a great sense of culture and history to name one. African names posses a sense of unity within the community- although there is still that ability to recognize the distinction and variety amongst African people. These days you find black Americans searching for African names online in their effort to feel connected to their roots. Why then are there Africans abandoning these names filled with richness in search of a more American identity? This “grass is greener on the other side” mentality is hindering Africans from appreciating their ancestors. Remembering what’s in a name helps us remember who we are, who we come from and where we come from.
Beulah Osueke is a psychology major at Ouachita Baptist University. She believes the world's general view of Africa has been tainted and looks to address the inaccurate perceptions thriving in the media that result from an unjust past and unwarranted generalizations. She hopes to shine light on the efforts being made to generate a new respectable view of Africa, one that attest to Africa's rich culture, pure strength, and tenacious perseverance.