A Baby Boom for Obama's Name

Isha Kallay was inspired by a dream to name her son Obama.
Isha Kallay was inspired by a dream to name her son Obama. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
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By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 14, 2008

In her dream last year, Isha Kallay, a hair stylist in Cheverly, beheld Barack Obama standing atop a hill, giving a speech to a multitude. The light of the moon and the stars shone upon him. He was magnificent.

"When I turned around, Hillary Clinton was down the hill," recalls Kallay, who was a Clinton supporter. "She was trying to climb the hill, and she couldn't make it."

Kallay awoke with two certainties: Obama would be elected president and achieve greatness. And her pregnancy, barely a month or two along, would produce a boy, whom she would name Obama.

She is telling the story in her salon, Aisha's Express Hair Braiding, as friends and customers gather around the regal proprietress wearing an Obama T-shirt. In her arms, dressed in a cream-colored corduroy suit, is Obama Alhaji Kabineh Kabba. He teethes on the fat brown stones of his mother's necklace, then squeals.

"Make a speech, Obama!" Kallay says.

Little Obama is 6 months old, born May 3, weighing 6 pounds 5 ounces. Kallay had her dream in late summer of 2007, when the candidates already were hard on the campaign trail.

Obama the Younger may be the first child born in the Washington area to be named after the president-elect. He won't be the last. A newborn at Sibley Memorial Hospital was given the middle name Barack last week, a spokeswoman said, and the arrival of several more baby Baracks has been chronicled across country, even more in Kenya.

Presidential namesakes have crawled and cooed among us before. "Franklin" reached its peak of popularity in 1933, when Roosevelt's tenure was beginning; "Dwight" jumped in favor in both 1945 and 1953 when Eisenhower helped win World War II, then became president; the gentle slide of "John" throughout the last century was temporarily reversed in 1963 when Kennedy was assassinated. (See the Social Security Administration's nifty Web site where you can track the popularity of baby names: http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/.

Usually a mom with this impulse will wait until the new leader is elected or has done something. Kallay didn't hesitate. After her dream, she knew.

"It's somebody God has already chosen to become president," she says. "He's a leader."

The cluster of folks hearing her account in the salon one noontime this week do not doubt it.

Tony Jenkins, the barber for male customers, flashes his Barack Obama wristwatch and talks about trying to get his father and his stepmother up from South Carolina for the inauguration.

And Saidu Bundu, "alias Obama," the Good Humor man wearing an Obama T-shirt, tells how he earned his neighborhood nickname because he handed out Obama literature while he sold popsicles.

They dote on Obama, they hail Obama. Sometimes it's hard to figure out to which Obama they are referring.

"I think he carries that name proudly. He sits up so proud," says customer Janice Baltimore, who patented a hair-care oil after years of getting her hair braided by Kallay. It was Baltimore whom Kallay called the night of Obama's victory: "My dream came true!"

The salon, where you can get a Senegalese Twist or a Goddess Braid, is one more outpost of Obama World -- those oases of powerful hope and high expectations that are materializing all over.

In places like Aisha's Express, tucked alongside a check-cashing place and a tax-preparation service off Landover Road, folks are finding ways to write themselves into the history, personalize it. They excitedly retell where they were when the moment of victory came. They polish their campaign narratives -- selling popsicles for history. They name offspring after the man.

Kallay immigrated from Sierra Leone about 13 years ago and has had the hair salon for about a decade. She eventually became a citizen and says she waited two hours at the polls to vote for Obama.

She doesn't expect Obama to grow up to be president like Obama. She'd be proud if Obama got a good government job.

Her husband, Mohamed Kabba, wanted to name the boy Barack, but Kallay liked Obama better. "It sounds so powerful," she says. Plus, she guessed that by picking the candidate's last name, she would ensure that her son Obama would be distinct from all the namesake baby Baracks.

But if the dream had gone the other way, and John McCain had been revealed to be the leader on the hilltop, Kallay knows what she would have done.

She looks down at Obama, who gazes back with mysterious intensity. "I would name my baby McCain!"

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