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Africanisms in American Culture

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Shakespeare once asked, “What is in a name?” The answer to this age-old question depends on the particular culture from which it is framed: among many African cultures a name tells a lot about the individual that it signifies, the language from which it is drawn, and the society that ascribes it. A name may indicate the linguistic structures and phonological processes found in the language, the position of the name’s bearer in society, and the collective history and life experiences of the people surrounding the individual. African cultures have various ways of naming a child, ranging from the Akan naming system based on days of the week to the Egyptian more cosmic one. Slavery,colonialism, and globalization have all contributed to the exportation of the African systems of naming into the African Diaspora. Among the various endeavors that African slaves made in becoming African American in culture, orientation was the culture of resistance involving the process of renaming themselves, constantly reverting back to their African cultural forms, such as spirituality, burial rites, and naming for inspiration and guidance, and thus reasserting themselves and reaffirming their humanity in a hostile world. Through re-naming themselves, African Americans have continued the process of cultural identity formulations and re-claiming of their complex African roots in the continuing process of redefining themselves and dismantling the paradigm that kept them mentally chained for centuries. How has the African naming system been retained and modified in the African Diaspora, and how has it adapted to the black experience in the Americas? More specifically, what influence have African languages exerted on the American naming system in the United States of America? What are the historical and cultural traits and origins of African language practice that can be said to motivate or influence contemporary African and African American cultural reality? How does a name contribute to discourse and interlocution in the African and African American societies? These are some of the questions we will discuss in this paper. What are Africanisms in American and other diasporic cultures, and how were they introduced into the New World? Joseph Holloway defines Africanisms as “those elements of culture found in the New World that are traceable to an African origin” (1990:ix). As part of their politico-cultural struggles, African Americans have endeavored to construct their identities partly by reclaiming those features that speak to their African heritage. In recent years perhaps the most pronounced form of claiming African identity has been the adoption of African names by people of African-American descent. Thus through the naming system African Americans are re-claiming their complex African roots in the continuing process of redefining themselves and dismantling the paradigm that kept them mentally chained for centuries. The purpose of this study of Africanisms is not only to help confirm the survival of African traditions in America, but also reveal the presence of a distinct African American cultural enclave in the United States......

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