At birth, he was given the name Malcolm Little, son of Rev. Earl and Louise Little.
While in jail on burglary charges, Malcolm Little became a follower of the Nation of Islam, a religion that emphasized the dignity and worth of black Americans. Upon discharge from jail, he began signing his name as Malcolm X, explaining
The Muslim's 'X' symbolized the true African family name that he never could know. For me, my 'X' replaced the white slavemaster name of 'Little' which some blue-eyed devil named Little had imposed upon my paternal forebears.
As Malcolm X, he led an outspoken segment of the Nation of Islam and spoke for many in the civil rights movement who felt it impossible to work nonviolently or in cooperation with white Americans in the struggle for racial equality. At the end of the 1950's, he changed his name to Malik el-Shabazz, but he continued to be known as Malcolm X. As time went by, he became disillusioned with aspects of the Nation of Islam. In 1964, he formed his own religious organization.
Also in 1964, Malcolm completed the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca required of every devout Muslim. Observation and participation in the rituals associated with the Hajj brought Malcolm to realize that it was possible for different races to coexist peacefully, a complete change from his former attitude.
…we were all participating in the same rituals, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white.
After completing the Hajj, Malcolm chose a new name for himself, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. Also after the Hajj, he visited Africa and was given the name Omowale when he became an honorary member of the Nigerian Muslim Students' Association. The name means "the son who has come home" in the Yoruba language.