My Grandmother Dora used to tell me stories of her grandfather, my great-great grandfather. His name was ‘Uncle Friday’. Nana Dora told me that Uncle Friday was directly from Africa. She didn’t mention the name of a place, but that is not unusual. Many of our forbears that were brought to this country were brought, as many know, from different parts of West Africa. To look at my grandmother Dora who had beautiful dark skin and high cheekbones, one would be reminded of someone from the Yoruba cultural groups often seen in what is today called Nigeria.
I have never invested in DNA testing to identify my ethnic lineage, but in my travels around and across the African continent I have been recognized and claimed by many cultural groups in West Africa, East Africa and South Africa. I generally can negotiate the African continent without being recognized as an American if I modify my dress and minimize my verbal contact.
Since I heard about Uncle Friday from my grandmother, I became interested in his name as well as his origin. From my studies in West African culture I know that people are named for the days of the week on which they are born. This of course is only one of the many cultural naming traditions of African. The Akan or Ewe people of Ghana are especially known for the day of the week naming tradition. Male and female names that represent children born on the different days of the week are often adopted. There are also other cultural beliefs and traditions attached to the significance of being born on a certain day of the week as well.
In the Islamic tradition, quite prevalent throughout the African continent as well as elsewhere, male children are often given the name ‘Jumah’ which represents the day of the Friday congregational prayer. As many know, most African captives who were brought to the United States were discouraged from using their birth and cultural names. In an effort to retain some of their heritage and dignity, many captives sought to construct a semblance of their birth names that were more acceptable to their captors. Thus names like Friday or Jumah as Friday would be called in the Islamic tradition; or Kofi, as Friday would be for a male named in Ghanaian traditions; were translated in to a more acceptable forms for the captive experience.
When I traveled to East Africa I was given many names by friends of different cultural groups. A friend from the Luo cultural group of Kenya gave me the name Adiambo, which means a female born in the evening. Another friend from the Kikuyu cultural gave me the name Ngina (pronounce Genna), which is often translated as ‘the serving one’ or one who gives service. We chose this name because my middle name is actually Jean and it seemed to parallel.
I am also a girl-woman born on Friday, so there are other cultural names such as Afua, the name which can be given for a girl, in Ghanaian cultures, born on Friday. My first name, Linda, is the namesake of my great grandmother Belinda. In Spanish the name means beautiful and it also has meanings in some East African languages as well.
This is all to emphasize the richness and importance of naming in African traditions as well as in many other cultural traditions. Also to demonstrate that naming is life-long. Our birth names often serve us and honor our parents and forbears. The names that we adopt or accrue during our lifetime represent our marriages, faith traditions and often our personal growth and transformations.
With this being said, I would like to‘re-call’ my great-great grandfather who was known as Uncle Friday, Baba Jumah. This name represents the life cycle of my own development and culture as well as my awareness of the losses that we have suffered as a former captive culture by the denial of our true family names. I believe, as well, that this also honors the origin and secrets of my great-great grandfather, Baba Jumah and my Nana Dora and our family beyond; whose history and traditions have inspired and sustained me as I hear their voices speak through their stories their hearts, and their names.
For Linda Tauhid’s Journal–
An African History Month Comemorative.
February 20, 2013