Akeem Olajuwon emigrated from Nigeria to play basketball at the University of Houston from 1980 to 1984. He then played professional basketball from 1984 to 2002 — half of that time as Akeem, the other half of that time as Hakeem. (He changed the spelling of his first name in 1991.)
How did Olajuwon’s successful career affect the popularity of the baby names Akeem, Hakeem and Olajuwon? Let’s check it out. (I even threw in Elijahjuan, which I think is the most creative of several alternative renderings of Olajuwon that have popped up on the SSA’s baby name list.)
*These are the two years Olajuwon led the Houston Rockets to NBA championships.
So, why did Olajuwon change the spelling of his first name?
“It’s no big deal,” Olajuwon says. “I just want to go back to using the original spelling, the way it is meant to be spelled in Arabic.”
According to Olajuwon, “Hakeem,” in Arabic, means “a wise man; a doctor.”
But “Akeem,” which is the way it’s been spelled since he arrived in the United States in 1981, has no translation.
What does Olajuwon’s surname mean? According to NBA.com, Olajuwon means “always being on top.” In every Yoruba name that starts with Ola- that I’ve come across, though, Ola- means “wealth.” So I don’t know about that NBA definition. (I also don’t know what -juwon might mean.)
Finally, did you notice how the usage of Akeem and Hakeem jumped from 1988 to 1989, but the usage of Olajuwon stayed the same? The inspiration here was Hakim of R&B group The Boys, which had a few hit singles out around this time. In fact, the names of all four of The Boys — Khiry, Hakim, Tajh & Bilal — got a boost in 1989. But I’ll save that for another post…
- Hakim Olajuwon – Wikipedia
- “Olajuwon plans to change name.” Herald-Journal 11 Mar. 1991: D2.