8 Influential Black Figures With Change Of Name For Artistic Or Political Reasons

by Duke Magazine

There is a school of thought that holds the belief that a name defines an individual’s personality and features. For others, name is just an identifier christened to them by their parents or guardians.

However, some choose to change their names while growing as a requisite for their respective fields like music, acting, and the likes.

Also, others change their names for political reasons or when they feel a losing trajectory on the path of their lives. Sequel to these, here are Black influential personalities who changed their birth names for societal fit.

Cassius Clay

Boxing News/ Muhammad Ali

Cassius Clay was a boxer, activist and philanthropist.

The controversial and “trash-talking” boxer converted to Islam in the 1960s. Initially, he was a member of the Nation of Islam. He changed his name to Muhammad Ali.

About his former name, the boxer said, “Cassius Clay is my slave name.” He continued, “I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.”

Ras Tafari Makonnen

Tadias Magazine/Haile Selassie

Makonnen was Ethiopia’s Regent from 1916 to 1930. He then became the nation’s Emperor from 1930 to 1974.

The revered Rastafarian figure was named Haile Selassie at his christening as an infant, then again in 1930 upon his bestowment of Emperor of Ethiopia.

He has also been referred to as HIM (His Imperial Majesty), Janhoy, Talaqu Meri, and Abba Tekel.

Mark Sinclair

Facebook/ Vin Diesel

Mark Sinclair has appeared in “The Fast and the Furious” series, “xXx” series and “The Pacifier”.

He developed the name Vin Diesel while working as a club bouncer in New York City.

Onika Tanya Maraj

Facebook/ Nicki Minaj

Born Onika Tanya Maraj, the Queens, New York-bred rapper of Trinidadian descent changed her name when she embarked on her career.

She is now known as Nicki Minaj, an abridged style of her given name.

Stokely Carmichael

Biography/ Kwame Ture

Stokely Carmichael was a civil rights organizer, a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a member of the Black Panther Movement and a pioneer in the Black Power Movement.

The Trinidadian-American was placed under the radar of the FBI under COINTELPRO. Then the FBI was led by J. Edgar Hoover.

After leaving the United States and re-settling in Ghana in 1968 then Guinea in 1969, Carmichael changed his name to Kwame Ture. His last name was an ode to his friend, former Guinean president Ahmed Sékou Touré. He was inspired to change his first name to that of Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah.

Alicia Augello Cook

Facebook/ Alicia Keys

Alicia Augello Cook is a singer, songwriter, musician and philanthropist known for belting out “Fallin,’” “Diary” and “You Don’t Know My Name.”

She changed her last name to Keys in order to echo her love of music and her talent as a piano player.

Malcolm Little

The Black Youth Project/ Malcom X

Born Malcolm Little, the human rights activist, orator and former Nation of Islam Minister left an indelible mark in the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

In the 1940s, while serving prison time for larceny and breaking and entering, Little joined the Nation of Islam and changed his surname to X. He explained then that he was named Malcolm Little as a result of “the white slavemaster … had imposed upon [his] paternal forebears.”

In March 1964, X started practicing Sunni Islam. Upon performing the duty of Hajj, he changed his name again to el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz.

John Roger Stevens

Facebook/ John Legend

John Roger Stevens is singer, actor and songwriter.

He’s known for hits such as “All of Me,” “Glory” and “Ordinary People.”

His stage moniker, John Legend, was given to him by his childhood friends.

Legend said in 2008, “John Legend is a nickname that some friends started calling me, and it kind of grew into my stage name,” “It grew to the point where more people in my circle would know me by that name than by my real name.”

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