Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Kieran Isn't The Only Name That Means "Black"

Edited by Azizi Powell

I decided to publish this post about personal names that refer to color in general and skin color in particular as a result of reading articles such as this one about the name "Kieran" that Mitt Romney's son Ben and Ben's wife Andelynne gave their recently adopted Black son:"Former presidential candidate and governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney announced on Twitter Friday the family welcomed a new grandchild, an adorable boy they named Kieran James Romney...

And while the toddler is undeniably adorable, the name is an odd choice for a dark-skinned child adopted into the family of a man who has a complicated relationship with race. It did not go without notice that the name Kieran is the anglicized version of the Gaelic name CiarĂ¡n -- which means "little dark one" or "black." "

I wasn't aware of this adoption or the comments about that name choice until I read this article and some of its comments
"Melissa Harris-Perry apologized Tuesday for a controversial segment on her show about Mitt Romney's adopted grandson, Kieran, who is black.

The MSNBC host came under fire after joking about a photo of the Romney family that showed Romney holding his newest grandson on his knee. During her show Sunday, Harris-Perry had shown the photo and asked her panel for caption ideas. The roundtable joked about the baby being the only black person in the picture."
I choose not to comment about this particular incident except to note that I believe that Melissa Harris Perry's apology and the apologies of other participants in that round table are sincere. Also, I wish Kieran and his family well.

What sparked my interest was the implication either that no one should give a child a personal name that refers to skin color or that White people who transracially adopt a Black child or a dark skinned child- and these are not necessarily the same thing- shouldn't give that child a name that refers to skin color or dark skin color.

Given the pervasiveness of overt and covert racism in this supposedly post-racial American society, it does seem to me that it might be wise not to give a transracially adopted Black child who is likely to have more interactions with White people than Black people and other People of Color a name that might result in him or her being teased. Of course, if we were really post racial, giving a Black child a [somewhat] physically descriptive name that means "little dark one" or "black" wouldn't result in him or her being teased. It should also be noted that Black American children still taunt each other with the word "blackie". I've seen this occur-and I have intervened- when I was a substitute teacher in a 99.9 % Black elementary school. And sometimes the child who is being called "blackie" has a lighter skin complexion than the child who is doing that taunting. So, yes, African Americans still have a lot of internal work to do regarding self-esteem, group esteem and more.

But returning to subject of personal names and those names' meanings, it seems to me that few Americans really know what their names mean. And it also seems to me that people from the United States don't usually care about the meanings of our names unless those names mean something that can cause us grief. And I hope that the name "Kieran" for this Romney child doesn't fall into that category, in part, because of the publicity we are giving it.

Yet, I can't resist the opportunity this incident that occurred during Melissa Harris-Perry's television show provides to share some information about other "color" names in two languages - Yoruba (Nigeria, West Africa), and Arabic. I chose those two languages mainly because I have information about them. It should be noted that Arabic has been spoken in West Africa since at least the mid 9th century or the 10th century AD. And traditional African languages such as Swahili and Mandinka include personal names that are adaptations of Arabic names (such as my name Swahili "Azizi" and the Mandinka female name "Fatuo" which is a form of the Arabic name "Fatima"). Click for more Mandinka names.

I've decided to divide this post into three parts: In addition to these prefacing statements, Part I includes an excerpt of a 2012 blog post entitled "Colonial Mentality" by Kemi Ogunniyi, a young woman of Nigerian descent who wrote about her impressions of the year (2010) that she spent in Nigeria. Part I also includes an excerpt of the comment that I wrote on that blog in response to that post, and a portion of Kemi's response to my questions.

Lastly, Part I includes several questions & responses from the Nigerian forum about names for a child who is born with a blackberry like mark on his or her hand.

Click for Part II of this post.

Part II presents an excerpt from a chapter of the 1966 book The Mind Of A Nation- The Yoruba Child by Fela Sowande. That excerpt gives the meaning of and an explanation for another Yoruba skin color name.

Click for Part III of this post.

Part III provides a list of Arabic names that refer to color in general or skin complexion in particular.

The content of this post is presented for cultural and sociological purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Posted on April 27, 2012 "Colonial Mentality"
"...Apart from the hair, I notice that even among most Africans, lighter skin complexions are favoured over darker skin tones. More so in Nigeria, it is evident in pop culture, and for example in some Yoruba music lyrics which use words like ‘omo pupa’ (light-skinned girl) or ‘apon-bepo-re’ (as light as palm oil) to describe a man’s ideal woman. Women with lighter skin tones are seen as more beautiful. The dark complexion of a woman now baits unpleasant jesting. Duduyemi as a name has become a joke, in fact some sort of sarcasm, rather than the statement of black beauty it is supposed to represent. So it is no surprise that skin bleaching creams are all over the beauty shops in Nigeria, in Africa, even in many parts of Asia. This is simply colonial mentality."
Part of my comment"
Azizi Powell on May 4, 2012
"...Also, Kemi and others, I’m interested in your comment about the name “Duduyemi”.

Is “Duduyemi” a female and male Yoruba name? What does it mean? I don’t believe its the same as the name Doudou which is a nickname for Mamadou. Also, are people with the name “Duduyemi” subject to teasing because that name’s beginning element sounds the same as the vernacular English term for excrement (doo doo)?

I’m so sorry that this is happening, and I agree that it certainly seems to be an example of colonial mentality."

Kemi's response to me: May 11, 2012
..."Duduyemi is from two words – dudu + yemi. Dudu means ‘dark or black’, yemi means ‘suits me’ or ‘worthy of me’. So Duduyemi means ‘blackness suits me’. I’m not sure if it’s feminine or masculine, but the name itself is archaic and not common nowadays. It tends to be used mostly in Yoruba literature and pop culture to describe African beauty – so we could say that is characteristic of a feminine name. But as I pointed out in the article, these days, the name is rarely used in a positive light . I have heard modern Yoruba people making jest of someone’s very dark skin and calling her ‘Duduyemi’ – something of a negative connotation.

Note: This is part of a four page discussion thread on Yoruba names and name meanings. One blogger wrote that he (or she) has found that a number of Yorubas don't know what their Yoruba names mean.

Re: Traditional Yoruba Names And Their Meanings by tpia@: 6:16pm On May 13, 2013
"dddaaayyyooo: What of a child Born with Blackberry on his Hand, what will Yoruba Call him? Please tell me I Beg of U
[response] afi foonu bi, or foonutide"

Re: Traditional Yoruba Names And Their Meanings by babe_online(f): 7:13pm On May 13, 2013
"dddaaayyyooo: What of a child Born with Blackberry on his Hand, what will Yoruba Call him? Please tell me I Beg of U

[response] omobibi

"Re: Traditional Yoruba Names And Their Meanings by Ninilowo(m): 7:42pm On May 13, 2013
dddaaayyyooo: What of a child Born with Blackberry on his Hand, what will Yoruba Call him? Please tell me I Beg of U

[response] DUDUBERI"

"Traditional Yoruba Names And Their Meanings by babe_online(f): 9:32pm On May 13, 2013
dddaaayyyooo: What of a child Born with Blackberry on his Hand, what will Yoruba Call him? Please tell me I Beg of U
...or bibilari
Also another respondent gave the name "aberry". I don't know if this was a serious response or not. The ending element in "Aberry" is similar to the ending element in "Duduberi".
Regarding the name "omobibi", the Yoruba element "omo" means "child" [for example "Omolayo; children are (a source) of joy"]

I don't know what the Yoruba element "bibi" means. I also don't know what the other element that make up the name "Bibilari" means.

Regarding the name "duduberi", according to Kemi Ogunniyi's post giving above "dudu" means "black". I don't know what the element "beri" means.

This concludes Part I of this post.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

1 comment:

  1. Here's a comment that I just read about the name Kieran:
    "Kieran is also a Saint known for generosity, and when used as a name that is the standard reference. It's a very common name, and many blacks are named Kieran as well. And there are a ton of white people named Kieran as well. So was that racial?

    The Gaelic name is actually Ciaran or Ciaran. Anglicized versions include Ciaran, Kerry, Kyran, Kieran, Keiran, Keiren, Kieren, Ceiran, Ceeran....etc. Tens of thousands of people have these very fine names. It's no big deal...."
    -MrComments,, January 5, 2014
    While I don't know any Black males name "Kieran" (or variations of that name), I do know a couple young Black females name "Ciara". I also know of a couple of young Black females (under 30 years old) who are named "Sierra". Some people may consider the name "Ciara" to be a form of "Sierra" and pronounce the two names the same, although the two have different etymologies and probably "shouldn't be" pronounced the same.