I Changed My Name. Now, I’m Free.

“Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn’t choose it and I don’t want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name — it means beloved of God, and I insist people use it when people speak to me”. -Muhammad Ali

No I am not a part of the Nation of Islam or any sect popular for changing their names. Although, I think they change their name for a great cause and I am not opposed to that. I legally changed my name from Bryant Keith Bell II to Bryant Cohen. Cohen is the last name of my maternal great grandfather, Albert Cohen. Cohen is of biblical origin, it is a Hebrew name meaning Priest, or a member of the royal priestly cast in Judaism.

My great grandmother and my great grandfather (Albert Cohen).
My grandmother, Patricia Dean (originally Cohen) is pictured in the center

The process of how this name came to me was organic and pieces were revealed over time. I have spent the last few years evolving in every way, but more importantly, strengthening my relationship with God. I have spent time in solitude, fasting, praying, learning, and working more on myself in these last 3 years than I have in my entire life. In doing so, I reconnected with my roots as a Jew and I have diligently sought out wisdom and applied it to address many challenges and poor habits I created and inherited from a number of sources over the course of my life. About a year ago, intuitively, I felt as though I was outgrowing my name and that it no longer represented the legacy I wanted to leave and pass on to my successive generations. While I love my family dearly, I know how important a name is to living out your destiny. Our name gives us direction. Through listening closely to God and what was being revealed to me, a journey down my family tree lead me to an inheritance that was rightfully mine, a family name rooted in my moral and spiritual commitment.

The first thing we possess in this existence is our name. In fact, before many of us are conceived we are named. This is adverse to the ancient practice of christening, by which you would not name a child until it is baptized and a name is identified that reflects a notable quality or characteristic. Thus, providing the child with purpose. Unfortunately, this practice isn’t so common anymore. Both our first and surname are handed down to us from our parents. At the time we receive our name, we are not developed enough to provide input in the name selection process nor does society openly condone such participation. This is risky. A name is more powerful than common knowledge has taught us.

The bible says in Proverbs 22:1

“A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold”.

So, if your name sounds acceptable to most ears, it is more valuable than worldly riches? No. Name has a much deeper meaning than how it pleases the ears of others. The etymology of name is “one’s reputation, behavior, essential thing or quality”. In fact, in ancient times surnames (family names) represented the class your family belonged to or the craft that they specialized in. When you are given a name, you are carrying a legacy, a type of behavior, a reputation. This can either be a curse or a blessing that is worth more than silver and gold. Imagine the impact of growing up with a last name like Hitler in modern day Israel, this would indeed be a curse. Multiple studies show that our name has a profound impact on our personalities, income, habits, and even physical appearance. Therefore, your name plays a large role in the unfolding of your destiny. Yet when people grow older and wiser, only a select few evaluate their name to see if it resonates with who they are and who they want to be as well as if it is the legacy that they wish to pass on to the next generation.

We are born into the stories of our family, but we are not bound to this reality. You have a choice. As spiritual beings, we have an original part of ourselves given to us by God. Here is where we find our inclinations and natural gifts. We have the ability to grow and cultivate our gifts while trimming the habits and behaviors that hold us back. If in our personal journeys we realize who we truly are and what we represent, something as important as our name should be the first thing we question.

As a lover of history, figures like: Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Joseph Stalin, Nelson Mandela, and Nina Simone all piqued my interest as it relates to their name change. As I became learned in the Bible, I realized that Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Joshua and Paul (just to name a few) all were significant people in the development of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as we know it. The cord that binds them all (in this context) is that their name was changed well after birth.

Those who choose to change their name must do so with care. The reason does not have to be religious, as the examples above illustrate. It’s all about the life you want to live and the legacy you want to leave for generations to come. As a name is a word that you will be frequently called and associated with verbally, in writing and thought. Words are powerful. It is by “word” that God created the universe, as do we create our realities. This power isn’t just dependent on language, it has a lot to do with the vibration and frequencies that are transmitted when the word is used or thought. So research your ethnic history and family, consider your purpose, and what you want your name to represent and the legacy you want to leave before deciding. Just remember, the choice is YOURS.

I conclude in gratitude. I have been blessed to to be surrounded by family and friends who have allowed me to express and cultivate who I am at my core. Most of all I have the best Sensei/Shi fu (师傅) / brother/teacher in Osyris, and this has granted me knowledge and opportunities that I could have never accessed without his personal sacrifice and patience. Finally, my purpose is clear and my family name will forever remind descendants to come of the Judeo-Christian principles that are the foundation of who we are and what we represent.

In the words of Marlo Stanfield “my name is MY Name”


B Cohen