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What's In a Name?

The Nation of Islam (NOI), America’s quasi-Islamic organization, has a policy where members change their names from a Christian genealogy to a Muslim nomenclature. Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the NOI from the 1930's to 1975, devised the scheme that members must demonstrate they are worthy of respectable Muslim names. While awaiting this formal name, the member carries the surname “X” to symbolize the shedding of the slave master’s name, and demonstrate acceptance that an original Islamic name is an honor. This is how Malcolm X received his designation. Other well known recipients were Cassius Clay later known as Muhammad Ali, the famous boxer and Louis Wolcott who became Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the NOI starting in 1975. Both figures bore “X” as a last name for a short while, before they were allowed to adopt their now well-known famous names.


As people adopted this convention, this caused an identification problem. In NOI temples, there would be multiple people with the same first name. To handle this problem, they would get assigned numbers in front of the X to distinguish them. Examples of actual names were Edna Mae 2X, Clifton 3X, Larry 14X, and Samuel 25X. Sometimes, this parlance would leak over into press reports. For example, newspaper recounts of the murder of Malcolm X have listed the two co-conspirators as Norman 3X (Butler) and Thomas 15X (Johnson).


After demonstrating acceptance of the tenets of NOI theology, a member may petition for a full Muslim name. Initially, upon its founding in 1930, the NOI allowed people to purchase their original name for thirty dollars. The NOI now awards members this new name based on merit, after a long period of service to their community. However, if you are a well-known celebrity that is converting to the NOI, because of your prestige, they will allow a quick name conversion.


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