How did (H)akeem Olajuwon influence baby names?

Hakeem Olajuwon
Hakeem Olajuwon

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…

YearAkeemHakeemOlajuwon
200356865
200265839
20016311511
2000771328
19996113415
19989719416
199711622624
199614624126
1995*17424754
1994*22226458
199324216616
199232520018
199141924124
199057027222
198945927919
19882216517
19871785523
19862832952
19851603622
19842545019
19831923515 [debut]
19823222
1981831

*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 main 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.

Update, 9/5/2021: I think Jamie’s theory about the name Akeem getting a boost in 1989 from the 1988 movie Coming to America — in which comedian Eddie Murphy plays lead character Prince Akeem Joffer of the (fictional) African nation Zamunda — makes perfect sense! Off to add it to the timeline

Sources:

2 thoughts on “How did (H)akeem Olajuwon influence baby names?

  1. Also, in 1988 the movie ‘Coming to America’, starring Eddie Murphy as ‘Prince Akeem’ came out. Might have helped that two year boost, as well….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.