Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Origins & Meanings Of "Jaffe Joffer" & Other Names From "Coming To America" (with videos)

Edited by Azizi Powell

It's been twenty-five years since the American movie Coming To America was released.
"Coming to America is a 1988 American comedy film directed by John Landis, and based on a story originally created by Eddie Murphy, who also starred in the lead role. The film also co-stars Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones and John Amos. The film was released in the United States on June 29, 1988.

Eddie Murphy plays Prince Akeem Joffer, an African prince who comes to the United States in hopes of finding a woman he can marry."

I thought about that movie today because I happened upon this information while doing research for the meaning of the Senegalese name "Coumba":
"Maad a Signig Kumba Ndoffene Famak Joof (variations : Mad a Sinig Kumba Ndoffene Famak Joof, Mad a Sinig Coumba Ndoffène Fa mak Diouf, Coumba N'Doffène Diouf, Coumba N'Doffène Diouf I, Maat Sine Kumba Ndoffene Famak Joof, etc. - c. 1810[1] – 23 August 1871[2]) was the King of Sine in modern-day Senegal. Maad a Sinig (var: Bour Sine or Mad a Sinig) means king of Sine (the Kingdom of Sine). He ruled from 1853 until his death on 23 of August 1871. He was the son of Maad Souka Ndela Joof and Lingeer Gnilane Jogoy Joof. His father - Maad Souka Ndela came from The Royal House of Semou."
In the Coming To America movie, the king's name is "Jaffe Joffer". The last name "Joffer" is very similar to the name "Joof". Also, real king's name "Ndoffene" and the real king's mother's name "Jogoy" are pretty close to the name "Jaffe". Furthermore, "Semou", the name of their Royal House, is similar to the name "Zamunda", the name of that fictitious African nation ruled by King Jaffe Joffer. That said, there are other theories the origin of the name "Zamunda". Click for an article about the name "Zamunda".

Finding that information about that 19th century Senegalese king made me wonder about the origins and meanings of other names in Coming To America. After looking up information about the names given to central characters in that comedy, I'm convinced that there was at least one person on staff who was well versed in Onomastics (the study of proper names and the origins of names).

Here's a list of the central character's names along with the origin & meanings of those names, along with my comments: [Two videos from Coming To America are given in the Addendum; The summary for Video #2 includes more information about that movie]

Eddie Murphy as Prince Akeem Joffer: The prince of Zamunda. Randy Watson/Saul/Clarence.
"Hakim, Hakeem - Wise, one of God's ninety-nine qualities"
Akeem is a name of Arabic origin, being a variation of Hakeem, and commonly used in Africa.
The use of Arabic influenced names fits my theory that Senegal, West Africa was used as the bases for the fictitious nation of Zamunda as "Islam is practiced by approximately 94 percent of [Senegal's] country's population.

Arsenio Hall as Semmi: Akeem's friend. Reverend Brown/Morris

I think that "Semmi" is a variant form of] the Arabic male names "Sami" - High, lofty, elevated, "Samih - Forgiver, and/or "Samir, Sameer" - Entertaining companion
[The meaning of the names "Samir, Sameer" fit the character of Semmi in that movie.]

James Earl Jones as King Jaffe Joffer: Akeem's father and King of Zamunda.
Read my comments above about the 19th century Senegalese King Kumba Ndoffene Famak Joof.

John Amos as Cleo McDowell: Akeem's employer.
"Cleo is a given name that is short for Cleopatra or Cleophalus and an alternate spelling of Clio. It is a Greek prefix often translated to mean 'pride', 'fame' or 'glory'."

"Mcdowell Name Meaning:
Scottish and Irish: Anglicized form of Gaelic Mac Dubhghaill ‘son of Dubhghall’, a byname meaning ‘dark stranger’, used among the Gaels to distinguish the darker-haired Danes from fair-haired Norwegians. According to MacLysaght, this is the Irish form of the name of the Scottish clan McDougall, borne by a branch which went to Ireland from the Hebrides as mercenaries. However, Black shows that both forms were current in Scotland."
Of course, the name "McDowell" is very similar to the name Mc Donalds, which is significant to this movie's comedic plot.

Madge Sinclair as Queen Aeoleon: Akeem's mother and the Queen of Zamunda.
"Aeolus... Ancient Greek ... Modern Greek...a name shared by three mythic characters, was the ruler of the winds in Greek mythology."

"An Aeolian harp (æolian harp or wind harp) is a musical instrument that is played by the wind. It is named after Aeolus, the ancient Greek god of the wind"

Shari Headley as Lisa McDowell: Cleo's oldest daughter and Akeem's love interest.
"The name Lisa is a Hebrew baby name. In Hebrew the meaning of the name Lisa is: or Elizabeth, from Elisheba, meaning either oath of God, or God is satisfaction."...

Paul Bates as Oha: A royal servant.
"Oha Meaning: True knowledge; Origin: Sanskrit; Gender: Boy"

Eriq La Salle as Darryl Jenks: Lisa's boyfriend who she eventually breaks up with.
"Darryl is a name from Old English and Old French origin, generally used for males. Daryl is a name from Old French and the middle English, used in English speaking countries for both females or males (unisex name). Daryl is a common English name.

From the English "dar", meaning "a grove of oak trees". Darryl is derived from the English, meaning "region of wild animals", or from the Old French, meaning "dear one, beloved" or "little darling"."

"Recorded as Genge, Jank, Janks, Jenk, Jenckes, Jenkes, Jenks, Jinks, Jynkson, Jinkson, and others, this is an English medieval surname, but one arguably of Norman-French origins. It is what is known as a 'back-formation' and was created from the early personal name Jenkin. This may not look like it, but is a diminutive of the given name John. This was also a popular spelling as Jan or Johan, and then Jen, to which was added the diminutive suffix ' -kin'. As such it had the meaning Little John or possibly John son"...
"John" = "God is good" [in standard American English] Click
for more information.
Given the character that Darryl Jenks portrays in the movie, I wonder if Jenks was selected because it was similar to the word "jerk" or "high jinks" (i.e., in the context of the movie both a jerk and someone who isn't really serious about his affections).

Allison Dean as Patrice McDowell: Cleo's daughter and Lisa's younger sister
"Patrice is a given name meaning noble or patrician, related to the names Patrick and Patricia.
In English, Patrice is often a feminine first name. In French it is used as a masculine first name."

Vanessa Bell Calloway as Imani Izzi: Prince Akeem's intended bride, royalty from another African nation
"The name Imani means faith and it has Arabic and African Swahili origins. It is usually given to girls. This name does not have any listed nicknames for the name but it earlier form was Iman."

I believe that the last name "Izzi" is a form of the name "Aziz".
"Aziz (Arabic: عزيز‎, ʿazīz, [ʕaziːz]) originally a Northwest Semitic Syriac/Hebrew/Assyrian Neo-Aramaic word now much more commonly but not exclusively known as an Arabic male name. Aziz in Arabic is derived from the root ʕ-z-z with a meaning of "strong, powerful". It is a cognate of Hebrew oz meaning "might, strength, power". The Semitic word refers to the "power and glory" of deities and kings. Al-Aziz is one of the names of God in Islam, and the word is also used in reference to the "king of Egypt" (pharaoh) in the quranic Surah-e-Yusuf.

But the adjective has acquired a more generic meaning of "dear, darling, precious" in existing Semitic Languages such as Arabic, Assyrian Neo Aramaic, Mandic and Hebrew. Aziz is a common masculine given name, especially in the Muslim world but it has also continued to be used since Pre Islamic and Pre-Arab times by indigenous non-Muslim peoples in the Middle East, e.g. Assyrians, Jews/Israelites the Maronites, Mandeans and Syriacs-Arameans. The feminine form of both the adjective and the given name is Aziza."
The information for Colonel Izzi (father of Imani), played by Calvin Lockhart is the same as that given above. It's interesting though that the title "Colonel" was used instead of King.

Note: These cast descriptions are from "Coming to America (1988) Full Cast & Crew"

Here are two videos from that movie:

Video #1: CTA - "African" Tribal Dance

kulaice, Uploaded on Aug 5, 2011

From the movie "Coming to America".

Choreography : Paula Abdul

Choreography Assistants: Cindy Montoya & Aurorah Allain

***After noticing a lot of commentary on the authenticity of the dance not being from Africa I decided to add quotes to the title, "African" to avoid confusion. The film is based on a fictitious story and not the real Africa. :)
Click for the a video of real dances from South Africa that remind me of the "tribal" dance scene from that American movie. Btw, since the word "tribal" appears only to be used to refer to People of Color, I very much prefer the word "ethnic" instead of "tribal".

Video #2: Coming to America (10/10) Movie CLIP - The King Has Entered the Building (1988) HD

movieclips, Uploaded on Oct 9, 2011

Coming to America Movie Clip - watch all clips

King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) pays a visit to Akeem's (Eddie Murphy) apartment in Queens, and catches Semmi (Arsenio Hall) off guard.

Film Description: Coming to America casts comedian Eddie Murphy as pampered African prince Akeem, who rebels against an arranged marriage and heads to America to find a new bride. Murphy's regal father (James Earl Jones) agrees to allow the prince 40 days to roam the U.S., sending the prince's faithful retainer Semmi (Arsenio Hall) along to make sure nothing untoward happens. To avoid fortune hunters, Prince Akeem conceals his true identity and gets a "Joe job" at a fast-food restaurant. Murphy and Hall play multiple roles, and there are innumerable celebrity cameos peppered throughout the proceedings -- including the Duke Brothers (Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy) from Trading Places. Coming to America made further headlines when humorist Art Buchwald sued the film's producers for plagiarizing one of his works. Buchwald carried the case to trial, where he won a sizeable judgement against the film's producers.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

Hat tip to the producers, writers, actors, and staff involved in Coming To America, including whoever researched the names for these characters. Thanks also to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

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