Dick Gregory was an African-American comedian and civil rights activist.
He and his wife Lillian were also the parents of 11 children:
- Richard, Jr. (1963) – died as a baby
- Pamela Inte (1964) – twin
- Paula Gration (1964) – twin
- Stephanie (1965)
- “Gregory” – no official first name
- Ayanna (1971)
- Yohance (1973)
Those last two births are notable because they inspired other parents to use Ayanna and Yohance, and the resultant upticks in usage made Ayanna and Yohance the top baby name debuts of 1971 and 1973, respectively.
- 1973: 177 baby girls named Ayanna
- 1972: 343 baby girls named Ayanna
- 1971: 194 baby girls named Ayanna [debut]
- 1970: unlisted
- 1969: unlisted
Dick and Lillian Gregory found the name Ayanna in Jet magazine, which claimed Ayanna was a female name from East Africa meaning “beautiful flower.”
This information probably came from The Book of African Names (1970) by Chief Osuntoki. Name expert Dr. Cleveland Evans says Osuntoki was “half right” about Ayanna:
Ayana is a name used for both males and females in Ethiopia, but its meaning is uncertain. Ayyanaw is a male Amharic name meaning “we saw him.” Ayana is an Oromo word for the spirits believed to mediate between the high god, Waka, and human beings in the ancient indigenous religion of the Oromos, but it’s unclear if either of those is related to the common Ethiopian name. ln any event, it’s easy to see how parents looking through Osuntoki’s book would seize upon Ayanna as one of the few names included that fit in well with the look and sound of American names of the time.
- 1975: 13 baby boys named Yohance
- 1974: 23 baby boys named Yohance
- 1973: 44 baby boys named Yohance [debut]
- 1972: unlisted
- 1971: unlisted
A 1973 issue of Jet states that Dick and Lillian found the name Yohance (pronounced yoh-HAHN-seh) in a book called Names from Africa, and that Yohance “means “God’s gift” in the Hausa language of Nigeria.”
The only sources I’ve found that mention Yohance are baby name books, so I’m not entirely convinced that Yohance is a legitimate Hausa name. Some of the books claim Yohance is a form of John, but an online Hausa bible I found translates John as “Yahaya” — similar, but not quite the same.
My oldest son, Gregory, has just one name. His birth certificate does not read “Gregory Gregory,” but rather simply “Gregory.” In the American system, whose computers, bureaucracy and institutional requirements demand two names to function, my son Gregory is a symbol of independence of the built-in entanglements which predetermine the destiny of the “two-namers” in a controlled society.
One of Dick Gregory’s daughters is named Miss, making her full name “Miss Gregory.” Here’s why:
At the time of her birth, racial hangups in the United States made it difficult for some white folks to call a black woman “Miss” and a black man “Mister.” So to be on the safe side, my wife and I named our daughter Miss. All her life, anyone who calls her by her proper name will have to say, “Miss Gregory.”
Inte & Gration
The middle names of Dick Gregory’s twins Paula and Pamela are “Inte” and “Gration.” Dick wrote in his memoir:
On March 18, 1964, one year and three days after Richard Jr. was born, Lil gave birth to Paula and Pam. We gave them the middle names of Inte and Gration so they would always remember the sacrifice their mother had made while they were still in the womb.
Lillian’s sacrifice was that she’d been jailed for attempting to dine at a restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia. (She went to the restaurant knowing she’s be arrested; her intent was the draw attention to the fight for civil rights.)
- “African Names for Your Children.” Jet 16 Sep. 1971: 14.
- “All in a Name.” Jet 11 Nov. 1971: 33.
- “Dick Gregory, Wife’s 10th Child Given African Name.” Jet 9 Aug. 1973: 16.
- Evans, Cleveland Kent. The Great Big Book of Baby Names. Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 2006.
- Gregory, Dick and Sheila P. Moses. Callus on My Soul: A Memoir. New York: Kensington, 2000.
- Gregory, Dick. Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat. New York: Harper Collins, 1974.
Images: © 1971 Ebony; © 1971 Jet