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Why Are West African Women Giving Their Children Hebrew Names?

The fusing of black and Jewish culture shouldn’t necessarily be too much of a surprise in the Tiffany Haddish era. The American actress’ dad was an Eritrean Jew. Discovering this, she actively sought to embrace her Jewish side and in December 2019 on her 40th birthday, and the day her Netflix stand-up comedy Black Mitzvah was released, she celebrated her Bat Mitzvah. 

It is all well and good talking about a fusion of these cultures when there is blood involved, but what about when there isn’t? In the last few years a growing trend has emerged in sub-sections of the UK’s black community, which sees mothers giving their children Hebrew names. It is a trend that appears to be especially prevalent amongst British West Africans. I spoke to four black women, Ruth Conteh, Ruth Ovia and Ruth Akinwale, who are Nigerian and Kaddy Thomas, who is from The Gambia. 

Some might call their decision cultural appropriation in that blood is not concerned. Cultural appropriation is, according to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, ‘The act of copying or using the customs and traditions of a particular group or culture by somebody from a more dominant group in society’. Other definitions say it includes those adopting a new culture without giving due credit, not knowing the culture they adopted exists or not understanding the meaning behind certain practices. Black Brits are not a dominant group but a minority, but giving names with Hebrew origin is taking from Jewish culture.