Welcome to the website woven for wordaholics, logolepts, and verbivores. Carnivores eat meat; herbivores eat plants and vegetables; verbivores devour words. If you are heels over head (as well as head over heels) in love with words, tarry here a while to graze or, perhaps, feast on the English language. Ours is the only language in which you drive in a parkway and park in a driveway and your nose can run and your feet can smell.

Black History Month honors the contributions of African Americans to U.S. history. This celebration began as Negro History Week and was founded by Carter G. Woodson, a noted African-American historian, scholar, educator and publisher. The observation became a month-long celebration in 1976.                                                                                                                  

February was chosen as Black History Month to coincide with the birthdays of abolitionist leader, orator and writer Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln, known as The Great Emancipator.                                                                                 

Here’s a short quiz about Black History: Can you name the first black American president, the first black Supreme Court justice, the first black congresswoman, the first black Oscar winner, the only black Muslim to win an Oscar for acting, the first black woman to capture the Miss America title, the first black female millionaire and the eminent black scientist who developed 300 derivative products from peanuts, including milk, coffee, flour, ink, dyes, plastics, wood stains, soap, linoleum, medicinal oils and cosmetics?        

The answers are Barack Obama, Thurgood Marshall, Shirley Chisholm, Hattie McDaniel, Mahershala Ali, Vanessa Williams, Sarah Breedlove (known as Madam C. J. Walker for her line of beauty products) and George Washington Carver.                                                                                                    

Now identify these ground-breaking African-American sports figures: the first black major-league baseball player, the first black heavyweight champion, the first black drafted by the NFL, the first black tennis player to win a major and the first black golfer to play in the Masters.

The answers are Jackie Robinson, Jack Johnson, George Taliaferro, Althea Gibson and Lee Elder.                                                                              

New England poet James Russell Lowell observed, “There is more force in names than most men dream of.” Many African-Americans tap into that power. Explains USD research psychologist Jean Twenge, “Parents are now more likely to want their children to stand out rather than to fit in.” The African-American community has led the way in that regard, and the rest of us have followed.

Africans abducted to America as slaves were often not allowed to keep their own Central or West African names. When a slave was sold, the new owner conferred a different first name upon his human property. After Emancipation, many blacks chose surnames that expressed their freedom. They often adopted the last name of a white family, a benefactor or a famous person whom they admired, such as Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Jackson or Douglass.                                                                                

Recently, some African-American Muslims have cast off names that they perceive as shackles of slavery and embraced names of Islamic origin. For three famous examples, basketball great Lew Alcindor, playwright LeRoi Jones and boxer Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. became, respectively Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Amiri Baraka and Muhammad Ali, who wrote, “Cassius Clay is a name that white people gave to my slave master. Now that I am free, that I don’t belong to anyone anymore, I gave back that white name, and I chose a beautiful African one.”

Long before Afrocentric R&B chanteuse Erykah Badu made a name for herself, she was known as Erica Wright. “I didn’t want to have the slave name anymore,” she said, “so I changed the spelling of my first name because the kah is Kemetic (ancient Egyptian) for “the inner self.”                                                                                                                                  

African Americans have also expressed a rich creativity in choosing first names that radiate style, attractiveness and black identity. As David Zax has written in the online Salon, “The vast majority of unusual black names are like the catchy Maneesha and Tavonda, the magisterial Orencio and Percelle or the evocative Lakazia and Swanzetta. They are names emerging from a tradition of linguistic and musical invention much like those that gave us jazz and rap. And they are names that have paved the way for Americans of all classes and colors to begin to loosen up the stodgy culture of traditional name giving.”                                                                                                                             

For example, LaVar and Tina Ball (he’s black and she’s white), parents of three basketball-playing phenoms, named their sons Lonzo (a guard for the Los Angeles Lakers), LiAngelo and LaMelo.    

For another example, more than 40 percent of African-American girls born in California are given first names that weren’t bestowed on a single white female in our state.                                    


On Monday, February 25, at 7:30 pm, I’ll be offering a benefit performance of “An Evening of Language and Laughter” at the North Coast Repertory Theatre, in Solana Beach. For tickets, please call 858 481 1055.