What's In a Name?

Say it loud and proud: Barack HUSSEIN Obama.

Barack Hussein Obama.

Over the course of this election, the subject of Mr. Obama's name has been discussed, but at strangely abbreviated length.

Dare you use his middle name?  Accusations of racism and/or Islamophobia instantly rain down upon your head.  Even John McCain repudiated other Republicans who called Mr. Obama by his full given name.  It's now become the common consensus that any reference to that scary H word is the moral equivalent of calling our President-elect by the N word.


Nobody chooses their own name at birth.  But a name nevertheless is a powerful symbol.  Obama did not choose his color either; yet, we are told, the fact of a black man as president of the United States will send a message of change to the rest of the world.

It's hard to imagine that it would not - after all, Obama is the most powerful black man in history, a worthy milestone if nothing else.  How, then can the fact of his non-traditional-American name be any less?

Actually, his name is even more symbolic than his color.  Unless you are Michael Jackson, you will die with pretty much the same skin color you were born with; it is an immutable characteristic which cannot be changed, and which is with you each and every moment of your life.  Your name, though, is an entirely different matter.

When your parents name you shortly after you come into the world, you are hardly in a position to protest.  Sometimes we see poor children saddled with ludicrous names: a New Zealand judge had to intervene to save a poor girl named "Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii."  There are also examples of the opposite, where people given normal names later change them to something bizarre.  Just this last week, George Garratt of England had his name legally changed to "Captain Fantastic Faster Than Superman Spiderman Batman Wolverine Hulk And The Flash Combined."

These examples are simply silly.  But the name "Hussein" does not fall into the category of the absurd.  It reflects a far more serious matter: that of the evil associated, not in any way with Obama himself, but with his middle name.

In the United States, there is one man bearing the name of Hussein known to all, and that is Saddam Hussein, Iraq's murderous tyrant.  We went to war to remove Hussein from power; our soldiers unearthed the mass graves of his victims.  Iraqis celebrated when Hussein was captured, tried, and hanged; what will they think now that America has a president of the same name?

What's more, Hussein is a traditional Islamic name, dating back to a close relative of Mohammad himself and one of the founding fathers of Shia Islam.  There is absolutely no reason to believe that Obama is himself Muslim in the way Americans would view it - that is, that he believes or practices any Islamic teachings.  He doesn't.

However, most Muslims do not hold to the doctrine of "individual soul liberty" so fundamental to American freedoms; they view Islam as being inherited from your father.

Obama's father was, in fact, a Muslim.  This has nothing to do with what's in the heart of our President-elect today, but it certainly affects how the world's billion Muslims will view him.

Does it make him a more sympathetic figure to them, as being of Islamic descent?  Or does it make him an even greater offense against their religion, since he arguably qualifies as an apostate which many Islamic countries punish with execution?

We're at war with Islamofascism, and if possible, need to win over more moderate Muslims.  If it's legitimate to celebrate Obama's color, as much of the world is doing, surely it's legitimate to extend the same significance to his name and the heritage it represents.

Consider the name Adolf Hitler.  Both Adolf and Hitler had been common Germanic names for centuries; today, they are quite rare and getting more so.  Those few still given these names aren't suddenly possessed by demons.  A child of today named Adolf Hitler is not fated to be a genocidal maniac, although it certainly would say something most unpleasant about his parents - no matter how evil the name, no child has any choice in the matter.

But an adult does.

It would be difficult to imagine any American or European who, on reaching 18 with the name Adolf Hitler, would not change it immediately.  No rational person would want to go through life associated with that kind of evil.

Which brings us back to the question of Obama's middle name.  He did not choose it, but he did choose to keep it.

Say what you will about Obama, he's no dummy.  He's well aware of what the name Hussein represents.

He's also quite conscious of his first name, Barack; as a child, he went by the nickname Barry.  This changed in college.  Newsweek reported:

Barry Obama decided that he didn't like his nickname. A few of his friends at Occidental College had already begun to call him Barack (his formal name), and he'd come to prefer that... Obama, after years of trying to fit in himself, decided to reverse that process.

Barack Hussein Obama's name is not just a happenstance of family history; he quite consciously decided during the formative years of his life to stick with it.  He shares a name with a modern monster and a Muslim prophet; his name in its entirety is alien to American tradition and history.  If he doesn't want us to use it, he had and has every right to change it to something else at any time in the last four decades, and he chose not to do so of his own free will.

We have a long tradition of referring to Presidents using their full given name, from John Quincy Adams to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, George Herbert Walker Bush, and even not-quite-Presidents such as Hillary Rodham Clinton.  Barack Hussein Obama has made history under that name; let him continue to do so.

Any criticism of its use says more about the critic than about the user... or, just possibly, about our new President.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Partisanship.
Reader Comments
This article is so poorly written with regard to its content. It is perfectly useless to stay on this topic. It also villify's conservatives, and rightly so.

Let's measure the man by his actions. Let's look at the content of the his character. Let's choose to focus on real issues.

There are plenty of bulleyes all over his policies. Why not stay there?
November 6, 2008 7:56 AM
I beg to differ. The article takes issue with people who claim that anyone who uses our President-elect's middle name is a racist. I believe we've been FAR too free with flinging the term "racist;" that sort of drivel has exacerbated tensions in our country, to our ill.

To whatever extent people do that, they ought not.

Mr. Obama, our president to be, CHOSE to validate his parents' decision to call him that; did he intend that his acolytes accuse people who use the name he chose of racism?
November 6, 2008 6:43 PM
Sounds like BHO is planning to take the Oath of Office using his full name, including the middle one. If that's what he does, by his own free choice (past presidents have been sworn in both with, and without, their middle names), then it is perfectly appropriate to refer to him that way.

December 10, 2008 9:27 AM
To Ed Burg: specifics please, on what makes "this article...so poorly written"? Just curious.
January 13, 2009 5:40 AM
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