While some believes that names defines your personality and characteristics. But for others, it’s just an identifier bestowed to them by their guardians or parents.
Some choose to change their names as part of a requirement for their professions such as actor, entertainer or singer. Others change their names for political reasons or if they feel their birth name doesn’t fit the desired direction of their life.
Here are some popular black figures who have changed their names for political or artistic reasons:
Stokely Carmichael was a civil rights organizer, a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a member of the Black Panther Movement and a pioneer in the Black Power Movement.
The Trinidadian-American was placed under the radar of the FBI under COINTELPRO. Then the FBI was led by J. Edgar Hoover.
After leaving the United States and re-settling in Ghana in 1968 then Guinea in 1969, Carmichael changed his name to Kwame Ture. His last name was an ode to his friend, former Guinean president Ahmed Sékou Touré. He was inspired to change his first name to that of Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah.
Cassius Clay was a boxer, activist and philanthropist.
The controversial and “trash-talking” boxer converted to Islam in the 1960s. Initially, he was a member of the Nation of Islam. He changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
About his former name, the boxer said, “Cassius Clay is my slave name.” He continued, “I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.”
Born Malcolm Little, the human rights activist, orator and former Nation of Islam Minister left an indelible mark in the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
In the 1940s, while serving prison time for larceny and breaking and entering, Little joined the Nation of Islam and changed his surname to X. He explained then that he was named Malcolm Little as a result of “the white slavemaster … had imposed upon [his] paternal forebears.”
In March 1964, X started practicing Sunni Islam. Upon performing the duty of Hajj, he changed his name again to el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz.
Ras Tafari Makonnen
Makonnen was Ethiopia’s Regent from 1916 to 1930. He then became the nation’s Emperor from 1930 to 1974.
The revered Rastafarian figure was named Haile Selassie at his christening as an infant, then again in 1930 upon his bestowment of Emperor of Ethiopia.
He has also been referred to as HIM (His Imperial Majesty), Janhoy, Talaqu Meri, and Abba Tekel.
John Roger Stevens
John Roger Stevens is singer, actor and songwriter.
He’s known for hits such as “All of Me,” “Glory” and “Ordinary People.” His stage moniker, John Legend was given to him by his childhood friends.
Legend said in 2008, “John Legend is a nickname that some friends started calling me, and it kind of grew into my stage name,” “It grew to the point where more people in my circle would know me by that name than by my real name.”
Mark Sinclair has appeared in The Fast and the Furious series, xXx series and The Pacifier. He developed the name Vin Diesel while working as a club bouncer in New York City.
Alicia Augello Cook
Alicia Augello Cook is a singer, songwriter, musician and philanthropist known for belting out “Fallin,’” “Diary” and “You Don’t Know My Name.”
She changed her last name to Keys in order to echo her love of music and her talent as a piano player.
Onika Tanya Maraj
Born Onika Tanya Maraj, the Queens, New York-bred rapper of Trinidadian descent changed her name when she embarked on her career.
She is now known as Nicki Minaj, an abridged style of her given name.