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.)
*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…
- Hakim Olajuwon – Wikipedia
- “Olajuwon plans to change name.” Herald-Journal 11 Mar. 1991: D2.