What’s In A Name?

Reading time 5 min.

“Good friend please help me. I need to know why you call yourself ‘Different Devill?’” is how someone who read the first installment of Random Thoughts inquired about my moniker.

More than one person has often asked me about the origin and meaning of that particular nickname.

Different Devill was coined by members of my own personal Zoe Bush*[[*Zoe Bush is a term that in Liberia that refers to the gathering place of elders and members of secret societies, as well as traditional doctors.]]; at the close of a wild, eventful and excitement filled time. That period gave context to the origin of the name, Different Devill. However, over the course of time it has taken on a whole new meaning for me. Principally, in Western and Eastern societies, as well as others, the word or name “Devil” usually implies a supernatural entity of malicious aspect; a spiritual being of evil intent. However, in the African setting this definition is usually overturned and “Devils” are most often regarded as repositories of wisdom, guided by ancestral spirits who can be turned to in times of distress, celebration and initiation.

I have always admired the power of the written word; how a word can change, evolve over time, giving new meaning to itself and the circumstances under which it is used. I have always wondered why black is often regarded as a color of negativity, mourning and evil and white the opposite (the obvious racial and historical connotations thereof aside). So from the beginning I have decided and set to turn the meaning of “Devil” as defined by “THE MAN” 😉 and switch it back to the AFRICAN perspective; hence my decision to alter the spelling from “Devil” to “Devill”.

Words have power, in that they define who and what we are. PCism or Political Correctness has taken this trend in the context of modern society and proved its importance… Our societies have all followed this wave to a different extent, with some in many cases adopting the languages and meanings of alien societies and by so doing inducing an altering effect on the psyche of cultures involved in this assimilation. How damaging or enhancing this is or may be usually depends on the defining power of the political and social leadership in association with the strength of the traditional cultural values of the society in question.

In many African countries we hear talk of the new paradigm, structural adjustment, Statutory Rape, blah blah blah; words which often have quite unintended effects in the adopting country. So what? I do not know much more than this: My Fufu and groundnut or Groundpea soup define my choice of meals and state, to any who knows, where I am from. A Philly Cheesesteak is just that; a Philly Cheesesteak, even in Liberia. An American is who he or she is because of that name, “AMERICA”, first and foremost. A name that conveys endless possibilities and opportunities, a name that has come to equate political and economic freedom for all.

Names are often an end. They sum up not only our beliefs, culture, ideals, politics and tenets of faith, but are also used to put us all in their own little niche.

AFRICA! The name rolls off my tongue, sibilant, strident, strong in its simplicity and that of a people… wonder, knowledge and beauty inherent in our continent. Africa, says the anchor on the evening news or the spokesperson for some umpteenth NGO, and we envision poverty, war, death destruction, corruption. Negativity.

Names! From the darkest ages of man, names have been regarded as powerful, with certain societies even to this day keeping sacred the “true names” of individuals (particularly children) hidden. Why is it then that we, who have the learning of the ancients summed up in our tales, our collective wisdom and on our fingertips, have chosen to forsake this resource and chosen to look for the resources that others define as valuable? Kweku Ananse from the Akans in Ghana and Ivory Coast, the Turtle from Yoruba land, Spider in Liberia and Sierra Leone and many other wise tricksters and paragons have in each exploit shown us how what we call a thing gives us a power over it.

So, why do we forsake this wisdom and go look for it in someone’s structural adjustment?

Many minds have examined “best” practices and the “right” way of doing things and been found wanting, yet we constantly clamor and advocate for a greater number of imports of names, terms, paradigms, rightsizing, readjustments, blah blah blah.

In Liberia, for example, we have experienced the phenomenon of “Right-sizing”, to the derision and scorn of our population in general; GEMAP (the Government Economic Assistance Program), generally known and referenced affectionately by Liberians as “Generating Enough Money for Another People”; ECOMOG – the ECOWAS Monitoring Group – popularly known in Liberia as “Every Car and Moving Object Gone”, and other foreign terms and notions. It’s a wonder with all of the imported PCisms, — the attendant jargon, ideology and mindset, — if we have any Africaness (to coin a term) left.

Assimilating practices from another culture, people or species is how we thrive and evolve, yet I see little wisdom in blindly following every trend (especially unproven ones). Particularly from countries that all have the same problems (the only difference being in scale).

What’s in a Name? Not much for some out there, but for me I am my name. My identity, my humanity, my being, my –ness, are all summed up in my name. My name is me. To quote the rapper Maino,

“You can tell that I’m different; you can see that I lived it

When I’m gone you gunna remember me clearly and vivid

The face of an angel, the heart of a lion

Champion spirit, blessed with the will of surviving

You remember the face, you remember the game

When its said and done….

Said you gon remember my name

As I get off my horse, giving you space to think about what is written and what is taught; you then contrast that with what you know and email me @ differentdevill@gmail.com. BTW I hate stupid questions, so if you have one please keep it to yourself, (asking me why I spell Devill with 2 l’s qualifies as a very stupid question), but I’ll let you know more about what I hate or like sooner rather than later and the non-importance of that fact or set of facts.

The Other Afrik  The Other Afrik is an alternative and multi-faceted information source from Afrik-News' panel of experts. Contributions include : opinions, reviews, essays, satires, research, culture and entertainment news, interviews, news, information, info, opinion, africa, african-american, europe, united states, international, caribbean, america, middle east, black, France, U.K.
Zubin Cooper
Zubin Cooper is a media professional and is an avid follower and proponent of African culture and its impact on new media. A self proclaimed bon vivant, born in Monrovia, Liberia and currently living in Monrovia, Liberia, not far from the beach, Zubin has lived in the US, Spain, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo and visited many other African and European nations. Zubin is currently involved in the running of omuahtee AFRICA media, an African Media company and in the execution of different projects. He’s filmed, co-produced and participated in many projects most centered on his beloved continent in the West African sub-region. He believes that media professionals, Journalists and filmmakers are modern day Griots; living historians and storytellers with a duty to record and share what they see, hear and believe.
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