Tuesday, November 29, 2022
The Changing of America
By Yussuf Simmonds (Managing Editor)
Published June 3, 2009

Muhammad Ali


Kwesi Mfume

Chaka Fattah

Malcolm Shabazz

Some of the names of prominent Americans have begun to demonstrate that it has truly become a melting pot indeed.

In the past, “Smith,” “Robinson” and “Jones” were considered real American names but as the “browning/blackening” of America continues, there has been a surge in birth names and adopted names of many regular and prominent persons; names that heretofore were considered unthinkable, un-American, foreign and/or even distasteful.


During the campaign of President Barack H. Obama, one of the hurdles that he had to overcome was name acceptance. Not only was his name uncommon for someone who was aspiring to become president, it was culturally un-recognizable, difficult to spell and even more difficult to pronounce. He himself recognized that when he referred to himself as “the skinny kid with the funny name.” But Americans did overcome that hurdle because they elected the skinny kid with the funny name to be their 44th president.

Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, many Americans, especially Black Americans, began to shy away from European names focusing instead on African, African-sounding, Muslim and non-European names. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad referred to European and Christian names as slave names, the legacy that were left to Black Americans by their former slave masters. Instead of John, James, Peter, Jean and Joan, parents began giving their children names such as Abdul, Rahman, Kwame, Kenyatta, Jamillah and Rasheeda. In addition, many persons who were not born with those names legally changed them once they became adults. It was an extension of what ailed Black people in America, a rejection of Euro-centric values and an acceptance of Afro-centric values, not only in America but also throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Now in addition to a president with a “funny name,” there are lots of prominent people with “funny names” – people who are in the mainstream and are dominant in the public’s eye in all walks of life. There are professors, ministers, entertainers, newscasters, journalists, elected officials, judges and sports figures.

Beginning with Muhammad Ali, the three-time boxing champion, he is one of the most famous and recognized persons in the world.

Dr. Maulana Karenga is the creator of Kwanzaa, a professor at California State University, Long Beach, chairman of the Organization Us, a prolific writer and speaks Swahili fluently.

Kwame Toure rose to prominence as a student leader of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and a member of the Black Panther Party. He co-authored “Black Power” and gave rise to the term in the sixties.

Kwesi Mfume is a former president and CEO of the NAACP and five-term representative from Maryland’s 7th congressional district. He recently ran unsuccessfully for the United States Senate for the state of Maryland.

Chaka Fattah is a member of the U. S. House of Representatives for the second district of Pennsylvania. He previously served the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and the State Senate.

Chaka Khan is a talented singer and songwriter who name is synonymous with songs and music; she is a Grammy award winner and had introduced a body of musical work to audiences that is unique.

Na’im Akbar is a psychologist and a professor of Psychology at the University of Florida at Tallahassee, a versatile public speaker and an author of several books dealing with Black people’s mental condition including “the Community of Self” and “Visions for Black Men.”

Kareem Abdul Jabbar is a retired basketball player who, during his professional career on the court, was considered one of the greatest players of all time. He became known for his “skyhook,” a play that was difficult to block because it placed him between the basket and the ball.

Phylicia Rashad who became famous as Clair Huxtable on the “Cosby Show,” got her name through marriage to Ahmad Rashad, an Emmy-award winning sportscaster and former professional football player.

Malcolm Shabazz, though known worldwide as Malcolm X, was a minister in the Nation of Islam before founding the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Since his death, schools, colleges and streets have been named after him; in addition, a movie has been made about his life and the U.S. Postal Service has issued a stamp in his honor.

Louis Farrakhan is a dynamic speaker and the leader of the Nation of Islam, who has rebuilt the Nation following the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and has established mosques in Africa, Europe and the Caribbean.

There are several other prominent individuals who are not African American but their names signal the acceptance of “funny names” in America’s melting pot. They include Bobby Jindal, who is the governor of Louisiana and a rising star in the Republican Party. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is a prominent medical doctor, who was tapped by the President to be the surgeon general. Martin Bashir (born in England) is one of the hosts of ABC’s Nightline, a national news program; he was also the reporter who interviewed Michael Jackson prior to Jackson’s legal troubles. Also there is Fareed Zakaria (born in India), who has his own Sunday morning talk show, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS; he writes a column for several national news magazines including “Newsweek” and has a bestseller on the New York Times list.

Finally, during presidential campaign, much ado was made about whether or not President Obama was a Muslim which prompted General Colin Powell to comment, on national television, that being a Muslim would not have prevented him or anyone else from running for the office of the president. There are Muslim Members of Congress and many of the African heads of state were educated in America.

Categories: National

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