Haile Selassie was known as a child as Lij Tafari Makonnen (Amharic ልጅ ተፈሪ መኮንን; lij teferī mekōnnin). Lij translates to “child”, and serves to indicate that a youth is of noble blood. His given name, Tafari means “one who is respected or feared”. Like most Ethiopians, his personal name Tafari is followed by that of his father Makonnen and rarely that of his grandfather Woldemikael. His Ge’ez name, Haile Selassie was given to him at his infant baptism and adopted again as part of his regnal name in 1930.
As Governor of Harer, he became known as Ras Tafari Makonnen. Ras translates to “head” and is a rank of nobility equivalent to Duke; though it is often rendered in translation as “prince”. In 1916, Empress Zewditu I appointed him to the position of Balemulu Silt’an Enderase (Regent Plenipotentiary). In 1928, she granted him the throne of Shoa elevating his title to Negus or “King”.
On 2 November 1930, after the death of Empress Zewditu, Ras Tafari was crowned King of Kings, often rendered imprecisely in English as “Emperor”. Upon his ascension, he took as his regnal name Haile Selassie I. Haile means in Ge’ez “Power of” and Selassie means trinity—therefore Haile Selassie roughly translates to “Power of the Trinity”. Haile Selassie’s full title in office was “His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Elect of God”. This title reflects Ethiopian dynastic traditions, which hold that all monarchs must trace their lineage back to Menelik I, who in the Ethiopian tradition was the offspring of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
To Ethiopians Haile Selassie has been known by many names, including Janhoy, Talaqu Meri, and Abba Tekel. The Rastafari movement employ many of these appellations, also referring to him as Jah, Jah Rastafari, and HIM (the abbreviation of “His Imperial Majesty”).
Haile Selassie I’s royal line (through his father’s mother) originated from the Amhara people, but he also had Oromo, and Gurage roots. He was born on 23 July 1892, in the village of Ejersa Goro, in the Harar province of Ethiopia. His mother was Woizero (“Lady”) Yeshimebet Ali Abajifar, daughter of the renownedOromo ruler of Wollo province Dejazmach Ali Abajifar. His maternal grandmother was of Gurage heritage. Tafari’s father was Ras Makonnen Woldemikael Gudessa, the governor of Harar. Ras Makonnen served as a general in the First Italo–Ethiopian War, playing a key role at the Battle of Adwa; he too was paternally Oromo but maternally Amhara. Haile Selassie was thus able to ascend to the imperial throne through his paternal grandmother, Woizero Tenagnework Sahle Selassie, who was an aunt of Emperor Menelik II and daughter of Negus Sahle Selassie of Shewa. As such, Haile Selassie claimed direct descent from Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, and King Solomon of ancient Israel.
Ras Makonnen arranged for Tafari as well as his first cousin, Imru Haile Selassie to receive instruction in Harar from Abba Samuel Wolde Kahin, an Ethiopian capuchin monk, and from Dr. Vitalien, a surgeon from Guadeloupe. Tafari was named Dejazmach (literally “commander of the gate”, roughly equivalent to “count”) at the age of 13, on 1 November 1905. Shortly thereafter, his father Ras Makonnen died at Kulibi, in 1906.
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