What is in a name? Do names have connotations? Why would people want to have their names changed? Some of us have, at some point in time, caught ourselves wondering the reason people are called by certain names. We sometimes wonder why people would respond to certain names.
As odd or as pleasant as they may sound in the next person’s ear, names are a very striking feature of our personality. It is usually the immediate point of reference when people want to mention another person and sometimes the first foundation of building familiarity with the next person.
Names can tell where their bearers come from, their status in the society or community to which they belong, their faith (religion) or their race. Beyond that, some believe names have an impact on a person; names can tell how a person behaves and even determine their fortune – Yes.
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A study from the American Economic Review found that people who had “white-sounding” names had higher chances of gaining employment from companies than those with African-American names. For some, names are just names – a mere reference to a person.
Names are fluid. They can change as and when their bearers want to have them changed. So it is not shocking to find people, for varying reasons, growing up to take on new names. At some point, people decide what/how they want to be called. They want to be known and called by a different name from what was bestowed unto them at birth. It could be for religious, socio-political reasons or sometimes a mere dissatisfaction with the name given to them at birth.
In the case of slaves, a name change was a marker of freedom – a new autonomy that afforded former slaves the freedom of choosing how they wanted to be known and called and also signified an end to bondage.
By giving themselves new names, especially surnames, they have cut themselves free from anything that bound them to their masters. While many people would choose to retain their birth names even after acquiring freedom, these brave black people thought it was better to drop their ‘slave names’ and adopt new names.
Names were not just for reference. They signified strength. They signified a voice. To these black people, names have power!