Since Black History Month is about to commence, I thought it would be appropriate to write this article with in mind the African-Americans who have names like Shaniqua and DeShaun. You may have been derided by peers and teachers or snubbed by potential employers because of those names; and as a result, you feel alienated because of that.

I want to explain that your unique names have rich meanings waiting to be mined. As such, I can assure you that these names are not made up, rather they come from a diverse array of languages, such as English, Arabic, Hebrew, Zulu, Swahili, Irish, Welsh, Cornish, etc.

I was inspired to uncover the meanings of African-American names trying to uncover the meaning behind the names Sha’condria and Rashaun. The former is the name of a slam poet who explained that her name comes from King Shaka, who amalgamated the South African tribe to form the Zulu nation. Rashaun is the middle name of Shaquille O’Neal, which is, I theorized, a portmanteau of Rashad and Shaun, both of these names mean good guidance and given by God respectively. Although O’Neal explained that his mother told him that Rashaun meant “warrior,” a warrior would definitely need good guidance given by God before rushing into the battlefield. It may not mean warrior, but it would definitely have an enriched meaning.

At that point, I became fascinated by African-American names and the various elements that can be traceable. I tried not to generalize, so I researched the names of famous people, either in sports or in film. So, I looked at famous people, like for example Jamar Samuels, who is a basketball player who played for the Israeli National League. Jamar is the portmanteau of Jamal and Lamar. Jamal is Arabic for “beautiful;” while Lamar is French for “the pool.” So combined, Jamar‘s name would therefore mean “beautiful pool.”

This phenomenon began during the Civil Rights era, when African-Americans started asserting self-determination, which includes, in this case, their and their descendants’ names. While there were distinctive black names from Reconstruction onward, such as Booker, Isaiah, Titus, and Freeman, the names with portmanteaus and compounds started emerging fairly recently in American history. That includes the inclusion of both African elements and African names.

This leads me to explain why no one should feel ashamed of their name because of bias based on race and class. Of course, when it comes to the issue of job applications having these names and whether it is worth keeping those names on them is an entire article in itself. I will say, however, that if there are companies and firms that claim to embrace workplace diversity, then it should be their obligation to hire you because of your name.

As mentioned before, your unique name, more likely than not, has elements that come from a wide variety of languages that span three continents. Another thing to keep in mind is that every other language-speaking group also has their naming conventions, with compounding names that also appear in African-American names. There is the French name Jean-Baptiste, which means John the Baptist, while there is the Italian name Michelangelo, which means Michael-Angelo. It makes African-American names universal in this way.

These are not random discoveries, rather the etymologies of those names have been used by well-known people. We live in an unprecedented time, where information is no longer confined to an educated class, rather it is available with reliable internet connection or a library card. So, it is entirely possible to understand where a name comes from, in terms of its etymology or its frequency. This can definitely be possible with sites like Behind the Name.

If that type of method of discovery would be effective to you, then it should be effective to everybody else who may have had these preconceived biases. If they have the same amount of access, than they should know better. They do not know your parents like you do, so the judgmental ones cannot know what goes into a name.

I am not black, nor have do I live in a black-majority area, so I do try to take the audience’s thoughts into consideration. I try not to be a white savior. If anything, the ones who have these names are their own saviors and I am simply helping if they request it. When I write this article, I do not want to talk down to you, rather talk to you on equal terms.

As such, I can only make suggestions rather than orders. If you are ever in the position to name your own children, then I hope that you expand upon what little research I have done thus far. Perhaps by adding African elements traced from the West African languages spoken by the original slaves; as a form of reconcilation?

It is all up to you.

So, if you are ever demeaned by your names, simply explain to them the etymologies of your names are very rich in meaning. If you are criticized because your name is D’shondra, just reply that it means “of a courage given by God;” and that it is not a type of “ghetto” name, rather a type of name shared by sports-players and pastors, who’s parents had evident command of linguistics to make such a unique name.


Image Attribution: Pixabay

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