Yahya Abdul-Mateen II: “I’ll Never Change My Name.”

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II: “I’ll Never Change My Name.”

When your name is Yahya Abdul-Mateen II — or even just “Yahya” — you must possess definite swagger. You must carry yourself with a stature that is always upright, a confidence that is brooding, and a bluster than enters a room before you get there.

Yahya Abdul-Matten II -- That's swagger
Credit: Quil Lemons/GQ

If you saw Aquaman or the one season of Watchmen, you know Yahya Abdul-Mateen II has all of that. But the one thing he was asked not to have was that very name, as he reveals in a candid interview with GQ.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, 33, is an uncompromising man of faith, which makes a considerable amount of sense when you realize ‘Yahya’ is a Muslim prophet–one many theologians identify as John the Baptist.

But imagine being a proud black man looking to strike gold in Hollywood and being told the only way you will make any green is to do something with all those names and a Roman numeral.

Many would have caved, done whatever was asked just to get a part. Not Yahya. Much like the bold apostle screaming in the wilderness, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II refused to change a single letter. But why?

My father [Yahya Abdul-Mateen] prayed for his parents every day and took them along the journey with them. I can only hope to do the same, and one way I can do that is by holding on to the second [in my name], because that means you have to acknowledge the first too: my father.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Gq, July 2020

Respect

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II at CinemaCon, 2018
Credit: Michael Tran/FilmMagic

When Aretha Franklin sang the notes out of that song, everyone knew and many demanded. All people want is a little respect. For Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, respect is something that must be earned before it is given. By choosing to keep his full name in Hollywood, showed he was willing to do what it took to earn the respect of influencers sitting in those director’s chairs or cozy leather ones in the corner suite.

The article goes on to tell us Yahya is proud of both his Muslim and Christian heritage. So, when he was asked to drop his last name to “Yahya Mateen”, or even rocking the diva mononym “Yahya”, he was “adamant that he’d never consider a name change.”

My name is not the name you’d pick out of a hat – Yahya Abdul-Mateen the second is no John Wayne, it’s not traditionally the guy at the top of the billing. And that’s why it’s so inspiring to people. I get messages all the time saying, ‘Thank you brother for representing for us Muslims. I was thinking about changing my name, but now that I see you, I’ll never change it.’

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, GQ, July 2020

To earn a good name is one thing. It requires hard work and diligent practice. But, to live up to your name is another thing entirely. Have you ever looked up your name? Its etymology?

For many people, that is an impossible task, but behind every branch, there is a root. Find the center of your name and learn its meaning. If you do, you’ll be stunned to see how your life’s journey has somehow fulfilled that path.

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, loving favor rather than silver and gold

Proverbs 22:1 NKJV

His name means something to him and his family, which is why a career wasn’t even worth the risk.

“For a lot of aspiring actors and artists around the world, America is the destination, the comparison. So to have my name at the top of the billing on my own for Candyman, right up there on Aquaman, and next to Keanu Reeves in a big production like The Matrix is huge. To be validated, to hold my own, and to go on talk shows where they say my entire name, that’s inspiring.”

YAHYA ABDUL-MATEEN II, GQ, JULY 2020

Salaam to that, my brother. Inspirational, indeed.

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