Our newly-elected President, Barack Obama, has famously called himself “a skinny black kid with a funny name.” He’s the first one to admit how difficult it’s been living with such an unusual moniker. In a video aired during the Democratic National Convention, he said Barry Obama might have been okay, or Barack Smith, but being named Barack Obama made everything doubly difficult. And at the Alfred E. Smith roast, he humorously declared that Barack was Swahili for “That one” and that Steve and not Hussein was his real middle name.
But Barack Obama has obviously triumphed over any challenges presented by his name, symbolic of an American future in which diversity is not only tolerated but celebrated. Many parents have already embraced a baby-naming ethic that champions ethnic names, distinctive names, and genuine if odd family choices. One pro-Obama group even launched a campaign in defense of unusual names.
Barack Obama was named for his African father. Called Barry as a child and young adult, he later reverted to the full, authentic, form of his name. Barack, which means blessing in both Swahili and Arabic, is, when spelled Barak, an Old Testament name meaning lightning–fitting in view of the numbers of parents worldwide who have instantly started using it as a namesake for their babies.
Interestingly, Obama’s older daughter is named Malia, a Hawaiian name that celebrates that part of his heritage. Under President Obama’s lead, the next four years should prove to be livelier and more forward-thinking in terms of baby names along with everything else.