POLITICS
03/31/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Why Did Obama Change His Name?

Barry Obama decided that he didn't like his nickname. A few of his friends at Occidental College had already begun to call him Barack (his formal name), and he'd come to prefer that. The way his half sister, Maya, remembers it, Obama returned home at Christmas in 1980, and there he told his mother and grandparents: no more Barry. Obama recalls it slightly differently, but in the same basic time frame. He believes he told his mom he wanted to be called Barack when she visited him in New York the following summer. By both accounts, it seemed that the elder relatives were reluctant to embrace the change. Maya recalls that Obama's maternal grandparents, who had played a big role in raising him, continued long after that to call him by an affectionate nickname, "Bar." "Not just them, but my mom, too," says Obama.

Why did Obama make the conscious decision to take on his formal African name? His father was also Barack, and also Barry: he chose the nickname when he came to America from Kenya on a scholarship in 1959. His was a typical immigrant transition. Just as a Dutch woman named Hanneke might become Johanna, or a German named Matthias becomes Matt, the elder Barack wanted to fit in. America was a melting pot, and it was expected then that you melt--or at least smooth some of your more foreign edges.

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