Barack Obama was repeatedly challenged to change his African name to something more American like "Steve Obama" in his first federal campaign, but rejected the advice and still won his Illinois Senate seat in 2004 defeating fellow African-American Alan Keyes. [See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.]
According to an upcoming book about his pre-presidential days titled Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President, friends, donors, and strategists suggested a name change to ease fundraising and make it easier for voters to accept him just three years after 9/11.
"The guy can't win with a name like that. It's too close to 'Osama.' It's still close to 9/11," said Ray Coleman one of Obama's Illinois organizers in the Senate campaign, according to an advance copy of the book by Edward McClelland, who covered Obama's early political bids and blogged about the 2008 campaign on Salon.com. His book richly details Obama's background in Chicago and how it impressed those who would eventually help his presidential campaign like senior advisor David Axelrod.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, many pundits early on suggested Obama's name would be a handicap, but clearly the Democrat had heard that before, according to the new book published by Bloomsbury Press and due to hit bookstores in October.
Just consider two other examples in the draft copy sent out by Bloomsbury:
-- Donor Steven Rogers, an acclaimed finance professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, tells of meeting Obama during a golf game. At the time Obama, who had lost a congressional bid, was seeking funding for his Senate campaign. Rogers says: "You can't win. You got two damn African names. You need to be like my children: Akila Rogers. Or, instead of Barack Obama, you need to be Steven Obama or Barack Jones."
-- Rich Miller, who runs the Illinois site Capitol Fax, teasingly told Obama to change his name to "Barry O'Bama."
Apparently his name didn't matter to Illinois Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky. She wore an Obama Senate pin to the White House, prompting a double take from former President Bush who said, "I've never heard of him." Schakowsky responded, "you will." [See who contributes to Schakowsky.]