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What's in a Name?

The film Prince Among Slaves encourages us to think about matters of identity, particularly African American identity. What's in a name? How does it feel to be called by a name which isn't yours? What names and labels identify us? How does it feel to be called by a name that is not yours?

Spellings sometimes change when we attempt to represent the sound of a name in another language, or with another alphabet. For example, on this website, you learn about two prominent West African ethnic groups: the Fulbe and the Mandinka. In some sources, you will find the Fulbe referred to as the Fulani, the Fulah, or even the Peul. Don't be confused: all of these are names for the same group of West African pastoral people. In some sources, you will find the Mandinka referred to as the Mandinga or the Mandingue. Again, these are simply variations in spelling the same name.

Fulbe men

The bill of sale between Thomas Edwin and Thomas Foster for the purchase of Abdul Rahman and Samba referred to these captives as "brute Negroes." This term may imply "wild" or "unskilled," but in fact, many captives were sought out and purchased precisely because they had skills which would be very important to the success of their owner's business. In short, they had professions! Here are the names of some of the valued professions of enslaved Africans in America: blacksmith, accountant, midwife, carpenter, potter, weaver, soldier, specialist in beekeeping and beeswax, mineralogist, goatherd, shepherd, cattleman, expert in paper production, and agricultural specialist with expertise in rice, sugar, cotton, corn, yams, peanuts, or millet.

Our hero's name was Abdul Rahman Ibrahima Sori. In the religion of Islam, "Rahman" is one of the Names of God. It means "the Compassionate One". "Abdul Rahman" means "servant of the Compassionate One," or Servant of God. "Ibrahima" is a version of "Abraham," after the great prophet/patriarch who figures prominently in the religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. His owner called him "Prince" sarcastically, but Abdul Rahman was indeed from a royal family. His father was King Sori of Futa Jallon in West Africa.

 

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