Why it was important to change my name

Mrs.Mckoy my history teacher at St.Jago High School helped me to understand myself. She would always motivate me by saying wake up and live!

In 5th form we did Caribbean history at the CXC level in 6th form history was broken down into European history and West Indian history. One day i asked my West Indian history teacher why the history of Europe was revolution, war and conquest and the historty of the West Indies was sugar and slavery? I don’t remember an answer but I came to the University of the West Indies still looking for an answer to that question.

In my first year at University studying International Relations I met Jahlani a rastaman who was my tutor for a political science course, then i met Kam-au who was involved in the UNIA (later became the Marcus Garvey movement) he was the first person i knew who had done a name change.

I got very involved in the UNIA and learnt about Marcus Garvey, Walter Rodney, black consciousness and Africa.

By my second year at University I got an opportunity through the UNIA to represent Jamaica at the Roots International Homecoming festival in the Gambia. My first chance to go to Africa.

In the Gambia i saw no sign of the resistance against colonialism. I was confused by the European owned hotels and Coco Cola advertisements everywhere . I wondered how it was that we seemed to be fighting more for Africa in the Caribbean. I left with a feeling of anger about things i didn’t understand.

I started to toy with the idea of changing my name when i met Kanoto Beluchi, my table tennis friend. He helped me to see that your inside should be in sync with your outside.

Between my first and second year of Postgrad i met Takura. He loved Africa and Marcus Garvey and i loved Africa and Marcus Garvey. He was a Rasta man and we came together in blackness. Our coming together helped me to explore being an African woman even more.

It was Takura who essentially gave me the name Affifa which i spell Afifa. He found the name in an African name book he got from his friend Yekengele. I added Aza to Afifa. Afifa means pure and virtuos and Aza means powerful. Afifa Aza.

I knew when i changed my name i was stepping into another part of myself, at the time i thought it was more of the current expression of the African woman i was finding in Rastafari. Michelle became Afifa and Afifa was allowed to do all the things Michelle was afraid to do or be.
It wasnt until yesterday while i was talking to my mother about an incident she thought might mess up the “Harris” name that i realized i gave myself my own name and permission to be fully responsible for what that name represented and created in the world. Changing my name was my first step into claiming an identity. I changed my name to start living.

Until now i hadn’t thought about how my parents must feel not to hear Michelle Harris associated with anything of value in society. It must seem as if Michelle went somewhere and didn’t comeback. They have to look at Afifa who they can barely recognize as someone they could create.


5 thoughts on “Why it was important to change my name”

  1. Hey Afifa. Give thanks for this reflection. I had a similar awakening during History classes in 4th form and it changed how I viewed the purpose of education. I too question why I had to learn about Columbus and Napoleon and his conquests when I was much more interested in African civilization, agricultural practices, governance and life prior to enslavement. I have also wondered about the how pacified some Africans on the continent were about their contact with Europeans and their affinity towards Western religion. Thanks again for this piece!

  2. Thank you for sharing such a personal story. I never thought of name changes as an act of liberation/independence but now I can appreciate how important it is to claim your identity.

  3. Well, you remain one of my favourite persons (from afar), whether as Michelle or Afifa. You are clearly special.

  4. I have been thinking a lot lately about my name, which I still feel I do not fully yet know. Thanks for sharing your story.

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