On the history of the use of "X" as a surname stand-in in the Nation of Islam
September 3, 2009 8:34 AM   Subscribe

Most retellings of the murder of Malcolm X have listed as co-conspirators two men named Norman 3X (Butler) and Thomas 15X (Johnson). Yesterday while reading a manuscript about the history of the NOI in St. Louis, I came across men named Theodore 2X and Gerald 2X. I'm curious about the purpose and history behind the "(n)X" naming convention both within the NOI and elsewhere.

Also looking for information about the use of the surname stand-in "X" in general. I get that in the most general sense it's portrayed as being a rejection of one's "slave name" as passed down from one's recent ancestors, as well as an attempt to embrace the unknown nature of one's true ancestral surname, but...

How common was it, before/during/after Malcolm X's prominence (the previous generation of NOI didn't seem to fancy it, and many of his contemporaries such as Farrakhan used it only briefly if at all)? Who was the first to use it? Was there some sort of qualifications that needed to be met before it could be used in something like an "official capacity" within the organization? Is it ever used now? Was it used outside of the NOI? What about the "(n)X" cognates listed above?

In short, I feel like most of us know a lot about what the "X" came to mean to the rest of America, I'm interested in knowing what the X meant to the NOI, in terms of its own internal institutional culture. Thanks.
posted by cadastral to Society & Culture (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Google Books has the answer.

Essentially, the X represents the unknown African surname that the convert has lost; when there are multiple people with the same first name in a temple, they get assigned numbers in front of the X to distinguish them. "Some temples have gone as high as X to the '17th power'" according to the link above.
posted by goingonit at 9:04 AM on September 3, 2009

Response by poster: Some data points from brute-force searches of Google [NOI ('1-30'X)], many from Black Muslim religion in the Nation of Islam, 1960-1975 by Edward E. Curtis:

Edna Mae 2X - Mosque No. 1, Detroit; Priscilla 2X; McKinley 2X; James 2x - "Muslim Life Gives Black Businessman Inspiration to Help His Brothers Succeed", Feb 16, 1968; Ray 2X

Clifton 3X; Harvey 3X; James 3X - Muhammad's Temple No. 2, Chicago; LaVenia 3X; Walter 3X Kemp; Clifton 3X - Temple No. 27, Los Angeles; Hattie C. 3X - Washington D.C.; Audrey 3X - New York; Beverly 3X - Mosque No. 27, Los Angeles; Walter 3X Epps - "The Atom and Islam: The Messenger is our Nucleus" Nov, 1971; Angelo 3X - Pensacola, Florida; Lee 3X

Edward 4X; Theodore 4X; Kathryn 4X; Beverly 4X; George 4X; Jesse 4X; Clara E. 4X Bell - Cleveland; Brenda 4X; James L. 4X; Ralph 4X Brown; Alberta 4X - Registered Nurse in Chicago

5X - 9X
Paul 5X; Clarence 6X - Atlanta; Roosevelt 6X - Temple No. 7C in New York; Edward 6X Ricketts; Robert 7X; Clifford 8X; Frank 8X Lopez - New York

Larry 14X; Samuel 17X; Robert 24X; Samuel 25X
posted by cadastral at 9:13 AM on September 3, 2009

Response by poster: (Great find goingonit... thanks much. Reading now.)
posted by cadastral at 9:14 AM on September 3, 2009

Let Malcolm X himself explain:


(About two minutes in...)
posted by antihostile at 10:41 AM on September 16, 2009

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