In 1971, a list of African names published in Jet magazine had an impact on U.S. baby names.
In 1977, a list of African names published in Ebony magazine had a similar impact on U.S. baby names.
And in between, in 1973, a list of African names was published in an interesting place: U.S. newspapers nationwide. That is, not in a magazine written for an African-American audience specifically.
So…did this newspaper-based list have an impact as well?
Yes, turns out it had roughly the same impact as the other two lists.
The opening line of the article was: “Here’s help for young black couples wanting to give their infants African names.” Toward the end, the article featured a list of 23 names. Most of these names ended up seeing movement in the data, including 10 (!) debuts.
- Abeni – debuted in 1974
- Avodele – never in the data
- Dalila – increased in usage ’73
- Fatima – increased in usage ’73/’74
- Habibah – debuted in 1974
- Halima – increased in usage ’74
- Hasina – debuted in 1974
- Kamilah – increased in usage ’73/’74
- Salama – debuted in 1974
- Shani – increased in usage ’74
- Yaminah – debuted in 1973
- Zahra – debuted in 1973
- Abdu – debuted in 1973
- Ali – no movement in the data
- Bakari – debuted in 1973
- Hasani – debuted in 1973
- Jabari – increased in usage ’73/’74
- Jelani – debuted in 1973
- Muhammad – no movement in the data
- Rudo – never in the data
- Sadiki – not in data yet
- Zikomo – not in data yet
- Zuberi – not in data yet
The article cited as its source The Book of African Names (1970) by Chief Osuntoki. As it turns out, though, the Chief wasn’t a real person. He was a fictional character invented by the publisher, Drum and Spear Press. Here’s a quote from the book’s introduction, purportedly written by the Chief:
It is strange, indeed, it hurts my heart, that brothers from afar often come to greet me bearing such names as “Willie”, “Juan” and “François”. But we can not be hard against them, for they have been misled.
Of the 23 names listed above, the one that debuted most impressively was Jelani. In fact, Jelani ended up tied for 43rd on the list of the top boy-name debuts of all time.
- 1976: 55 baby boys named Jelani
- 1975: 46 baby boys and 6 baby girls named Jelani [debut as a girl name]
- 1974: 53 baby boys named Jelani
- 1973: 36 baby boys named Jelani [overall debut]
- 1972: unlisted
- 1971: unlisted
Which of those 23 names do you like best?
- “African chief explains symbolism of names.” San Bernardino County Sun 15 Aug. 1973: B-4.
- Markle, Seth M. A Motorcycle on Hell Run: Tanzania, Black Power, and the Uncertain Future of Pan-Africanism, 1964-1974. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2017.