Opinion: How Barry Obama decided to become Barack Obama


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Last month we had the flap over whether members of the public could use the actual middle name of Barack Hussein Obama openly because the Arabic-sounding, maybe-he-really-is-a-Muslim name his parents gave him can now be used by a malevolent few to impugn the Democratic candidate’s patriotism and Americanness in an era of terror over terrorism.

Obama’s travails in recent days over his 20-year association with a Chicago Christian church and racial rants of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright there may have pretty well erased the Muslim concern, though creating their own black nationalist worries in the minds of some.


But this morning, as part of the ongoing lengthy discovery process about the vital narratives of our remaining presidential candidates, out comes Newsweek with an intriguing article about the 1980-81 era in Obama’s life when he was a California college student at Occidental known as Barry Obama. (With a tip of the hat to the Politico’s Mike Allen.)

The magazine cover story describes a gradual personality change in the young man when he actually reversed the assimilation process his Kenyan immigrant father had made upon arriving in 1959 and wanting to fit into the American melting pot. So the father’s name of Barack became Barry.

In the early 1980s, with his father long absent and returned to Africa, the would-be politician re-chose Barack, to the consternation of some family members. ‘It was when I made a conscious decision: I want to grow up,’ Obama told the magazine.

According to Newsweek’s account by Richard Wolffe, Jessica Ramirez and Jeffrey Bartholet, the name change -- or reversal -- became part of the biracial young man’s personal discovery that he occupied a potentially unique political position in modern America, as someone who knew intimately both life as a white and an African American.

It’s a revealing magazine story and one of the better arguments for what have become 22-month presidential campaigns; they give us more time to learn more about the inner lives of the surviving White House contenders.

-- Andrew Malcolm