Friday, September 09, 2011

mos def, ya sin, and "government names"

Mos Def is changing his name to Yasiin! The name is actually old news to some of his fans. A few years ago on The Ecstatic album he said clearly (in Spanish) on the track No Hay Nada Mas: "Mi primero nombre es Yasiin Dante" (sic). So I suppose the real news is at the end of the year he is retiring the name "Mos Def":

Get More: Sucker Free

Coincidentally I've been thinking about names a lot recently. Earlier this week I started to write down ideas for a spoken word piece riffing on the concept of "government name" and was intrigued by the different kinds of names and ideas about names which are out there.

For a large mass of people, there is a simple identification between their "real" name and their "government name" but not everyone takes that identification for granted. Many Jews will have a Hebrew name given at circumcision which is different from their public/government names. Similarly, there are Asians in America who might use an Anglo name as their public name but their "real" name used with family is different.

Obviously many rappers and performance poets adopt flashy and distinctive stage names. Also actors and comedians choose names which hide or obscure their ethnic origins or emphasize/de-emphasize their connections to show business dynasties (list of stage names). But if you look at the full range of naming practices, people change their names for all sorts of reasons (religious, spiritual, cultural, personal and familial, social, economic, idiosyncratic, etc.)

An interesting distinction between the Nation of Islam and more orthodox Islam lies in their attitudes towards names. For example, the Quran (33:5) says "Call them by the names of their fathers" and orthodox Islam puts a certain amount of emphasis on acknowledging ones lineage and not denying paternity. So there are many converts who, even when they adopt a "Muslim" name, they will keep the surnames they were born with. (e.g. Abdul-Hakim Jackson, Nuh Ha Mim Keller). For the Nation, on the other hand, most African-American surnames are treated as European-derived "slave names" and replaced with an X, but there is a tendency to keep ones given name. (e.g. Malcolm X, Clarence 13X, etc.)

For Muslims, Ya Sin is a fairly common name which comes from the name of a surah known as the heart of the Quran.

Heart of the Qur'an: A Commentary to Sura al Yasin by Ayatullah Dastghaib Shirazi
The Heart of the Qur’an: Reflections from Surah Ya-Sin by Hamza Yusuf Hanson

1 comment:

holy quran online said...

Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance.