There’s some people you meet even many times and it’s not very memorable. There’s others who you meet just once, and they leave an indelible mark on your soul. My friend Naima Johnston Bush was that way.
I became introduced to her through a mutual friend, Tony Robinson and after talking to her, I invited her to be the worship leader for my Released Women’s Conference in the Kansas City, MO area, last year. She is an anointed woman of God, a powerful worship leader whose voice will bring you to tears and joy. I’m so happy and honored to be part of her blog tour. Be sure to check out her website here.
There she was, a little girl eating pudding out of a brown wooden bowl, watching stars on t.v. like Judy Garland from The Wizard of Oz, dreaming of changing her own dreadful name Naima to Torri Reynolds. Yes, she’d have a new glamorous name and she was going to be a star, singing and traveling over the rainbow, by clicking her heels together 3 times.
Naima’s new name Torri Reynolds didn’t last long; next she was Tye Johnston as she joined the gifted, talented program at James Monroe High School, singing on the train and dancing in the park.
Her names changed faster than her friends could keep up: Laura after Laura Ingalls Wilder, Betsy from Maude Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy Tales, and in her plaid checked poncho, Nancy from the Nancy Drew mystery series. Any name but what her parents had bestowed on her at birth, Naima, named after the jazz musical master John Coltrane’s wife and the song she had inspired him to write.
It was an unusual and difficult name that “caused me much angst as a child trying to fit in, but also a name used by God to direct my destiny and to define the purpose of my life, ” Dr. Naima Johnston Bush writes in her book, From Confessions of a Big Girl.
She didn’t have a cute common name like Christine or Kim, and was singled out at school because of it. Family members gave her the most grief over it. Her maternal grandfather called her Naomi, Noxzema and other variations. Her grandmothers would misspell it on birthday and holiday cards. People wanted to add an O and call her Naomi and abbreviated it to Nema, Nem, and Ni.
One day, pondering her stage name, Naima asked her father what her name meant. “Joy,” he said. Being a moody adolescent, she thought that odd, but tried it on for size. Joy Johnston. She hated it.
As she grew older, she began to understand the importance of star quality…being unique, having that something special. She decided to keep her name. People would ask her if her name was African and she would tell them it was Arabic, a Middle Eastern name.
A Muslim she dated, wishing to end her ignorance of her heritage, as well as her love for pork-fried rice (pigs were the dirtiest animals alive!), informed her of the origin of her name.
When she was a student at Ohio Wesleyan University, the obsession with changing her name ended in a nickname which she still carries to this day, Nay Nay.
“At Ohio Wesleyan I once again reached into the atmosphere and pulled out a name that meant nothing, but was simply easy to pronounce. As a hurt and troubled teen trying to remove myself from the promiscuous and unhappy young woman I had become, I found that shorting my name endeared me to many who did not have to struggle with the strange sounding Arabic,” she writes in From Confessions of a Big Girl.
Reinvention, she writes, is a beautiful thing. On her own, isolated from her parents, tired of battling her weight, heart-broken when her boyfriend left for New York, and not knowing who she really was, she crafted herself into the new Nay Nay – successful in school, friend to all, dedicated to service, advancing the political agenda of the Black Student Union on campus.
One night at a meeting discussing issues that African American face in a predominantly white college, God used a “beautiful” Muslim “with almond colored skin and curly hair” to help Naima see her true identity and what her name really meant. When she put out her hand to shake his and introduced herself as Nay Nay, his eyebrow arched and he said, “Girl, that is not what your momma named you.”
She said “Naima” defiantly, and he asked her what it meant. When she said she wasn’t sure, he told her that he was going to find out: a girl as strong and beautiful as her couldn’t go by “Nay Nay” because that was just crazy.
At a Family Night meeting, he announced in front of everyone that he had looked up their president Naima’s name, and it meant “Gift from God, to benefit.”
Naima was flabbergasted and it was the beginning of her being able to see the truth of who she was – a beautiful meaning for a beautiful name.
In her second year of graduate school after she became a born again Christian, Naima read a book by Evangelist Wynell Johnson about the name that is above all names – Jesus. “Of the many names in scripture there is one name that excels them all. His name clearly shows the connection between a name and the reality a name sets forth.” Naima began to see that God assigned everything He created a name, and that name when embraced can determine and define destiny.
What is your name?
Do you know its origin and meaning?
Have you embraced your name and your great destiny?
” Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” – Revelation 2:17, NIV
This has been an excerpt from Confessions of a Big Girl, Reflections on Fat, Faith and Femininity by Dr. Naima Johnston Bush available now at www.amazon.com. For more information about Naima visit www.ministryofnaima.com. The first two people to leave a comment will be entered into a drawing to win a free copy of the book!