Why Change Your Name?
Imam W. Deen Mohammed
The tradition of taking on a different name started in the Nation of Islam under the leadership of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Under his leadership, it was done to fulfill the need of identity for his followers. Many African-Americans are very uncomfortable with themselves and still suffer from what we call identity problems. The Nation of Islam made its adherents very comfortable with their identity because it connected them back with Africa and to Al-Islam In doing so, it proved that they had an Islamic as well as an African past; therefore, that made it very easy for the people to accept the new identity as their own.
The Honorable Klijah Muhammad made Muslim synonymous with self. In a kind of catechism, he said, "What is your ownself?" And his answer was, "Your ownself is a righteous Muslim." For his followers, Muslim was not just an Arab. And he was correct because Muslims are all over the world, and they are of all nations. He also said, "You will get a Muslim name one day. I was not given the authority to give you a Muslim name, therefore, I give you an “X”.
I had always thought about that, and wanted to know why he gave his followers an 'X.' I had learned that X means unknown, and we as a people did not know our ancestral family names. In studying our history, I found out that the slaves could not write the English language. Perhaps some of them were good writers in Arabic or some African dialect because many of them were Muslims and their language was Arabic. Some slaves were from Sudan and other places with Muslim populations. During slavery, when the Master wanted us to write our name, he said, "Write your name or put your 'X,' and that is how the X got started. So the slave would put his X, meaning, "I don't have a name," or "I don't know how to write my name." The Honorable Elijah Muhammad was saying the same thing, "You don't have a last name, therefore, I am giving you an X."
Choosing A Muslim Name
It is practiced all around the world that when Muslims embrace the religion of Al-Islam, or Islam as it is commonly called, they take on a Muslim name. But, if you have a good name with good meaning and you are comfortable with that name, you do not have to change it. We meet many Muslims who have African or Western names. It is my opinion that if they have good names, they are Muslim names, though by description, they are not Muslim names. After all, why do you take on a Muslim name? It is because you want a name that has good meaning. You want a name that compliments your good nature and the excellence of your being. The best names are the Names of God. And I find that many Christian names come from the Names of God. If you study some Christian names and trace their meaning and history, you will find that many of them come from names that are attributed to God, or are an attribute of God.
Members of the American Muslim Mission change their names in the tradition of their previous experience in the Nation of Islam. The Nation of Islam was concerned with dignifying and giving our people a natural relationship with themselves and their whole life, and this is what we are trying to do. My advice is that if a person is comfortable with a name, he should keep it even though it is not a typical Arab or Muslim name. After all, we are concerned about our family relationships, and many times when a person takes on a new name, it hurts the family members. Many families do not have a problem with other members joining a different religion, but they are hurt when a family member takes on a new name. To them, the new name suggests a kind of separation from the rest of the family.
I do not encourage people to take on names without a lot of thought. If you want to take on a new name, discuss it with family members that are not Muslims. You should say to them, "I am a Muslim now, and I would like to take on a Muslim name." Now if you see that changing your name is going to hurt your family, and the name you have is not really misrepresenting you, then you should give it a lot of thought before changing your family name. Now I wouldn't want to be called "John Dog." If I had a name like that, I would tell my family, "Look, I'm sorry. If you all don't understand why I want to change this name, I'm sorry," and that would be it. I would take another name.
I would like to repeat, if you desire to change your name, you should first consult with other family members before doing so. <>