Identity of Our Names

So far into the month of February, and I haven’t written about black history yet. But the history of our blackness, and of our names, is not only rooted in Africa and the slave trade, but rooted in every place around the world. Our name defines our family, origin, culture, race and legacy. I am grateful to know that my surname, Nofi, comes from Nigeria. I also know that thousands of people in the United States do not know their true surnames, and likely never will.

There is a profound connection between Native Americans, Africans, and the slave trade. Not just because both groups of people were enslaved, but because both groups have lost their identities, place names, and cultures at the hands of European settlers. For example, an African brought to North America, who’s name originally was Kwame, would be beaten and tortured until he accepted his new “name”, John. Areas with place names given by the tribe living in that area were changed by European settlers, or destroyed altogether. For both Africans and Native Americans, they were ripped away from their communities, thus ripping them away from their culture.

The most frightening thing of all, is that this still happens in 2015. It may surprise you to know that it happens on Facebook.

Facebook has a policy (that is binding because we agree to it) that “unauthentic” names cannot be used on our profiles. I understand this may be in place to deter folks from creating a fake Facebook identity. However, this policy effects people who have real names that fall under the definition of “unauthentic”. I did a test with a Yomechas Federation name, “Running Deer”, to see if Facebook would let me make a new account with that name. It did, but it could be because that name is so widely recognized. So, I tried using Little Shark as a first and last name. It would not go through. The site presented an ‘error’, stating that I was trying to create a profile for a business. Who are you, Facebook, to tell me Little Shark is a name of a business, and not a human being? Who are you to decide what names are real, and what names are fake?

In regard to Yomechas Federation, Running Deer is a name, not first and last, simply a name. So what do people trying to use Facebook do if they come from a culture that does not use surnames? Make up a name? Doesn’t that also violate the fake name policy? It sounds more like Facebook is filtering the types of people who use the site, rather than ‘catfish’.

That brings me to my next point about parents who name their daughters Gift, Lady, Future, etc. Unique and unconventional names have become increasingly popular. Facebook does not let these names go through as first names either. If the name on my birth certificate is Lady, what name do I use alternatively? A fake one?

In Sudan, the Dinka people have an identical first and last name. Believe it or not, Facebook will lock you out of your account for this. In the case of 7Song, who was using the name Sevensong Sevensong, because the number wouldn’t go through, recently was locked out for having an “unauthentic” name. This is just one more example of the extreme unfairness of this policy.

This business of picking and choosing who exists and who doesn’t, defeats the purpose of an internet community. It replicates the mentality of segregation, and robs us of our humanity. Some may argue that we do not have to use Facebook, or other social media. Some may argue that this is a silly thing to be upset about. My civil rights exist on the internet just as much as they do anywhere else.

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