Oprah named the son that she conceived and lost after numerous childhood rapes “Canaan,” meaning “new land, new life.” Oprah’s traumatic childhood experiences, including being raped for the first time by a cousin at the age of nine, are still a part of Oprah today. But, as the name of her dead baby boy symbolizes, whenever something comes to an end, there is hope for new land and a new life – or a “second chance.”
Oprah revealed the name of her dead son for the first time during an appearance at the Rod Laver arena in Melbourne, as reported by Australia’s News on December 3. The American TV talk show host appeared in front of 12,000 people, and during the later part of her show, she shared with her audience that she had just recently named the baby son that she lost at the age of 14 after his premature birth.
“I did an interview with a reporter before I came to Australia and she said you should name the baby son who died,” she told her Australian audience. “So I have named him, I had a little boy named Canaan. I did have a son. And I named him Canaan because Canaan means new land, new life.”
Besides sharing her dead baby’s name with the audience, Oprah also shared the child sexual abuse which she experienced as a young girl: “I was raped at nine years old by a cousin, then again by another family member, and another family member.” By the time Oprah was 14, she was filled with so much “pain and shame” that she tried to hide her pregnancy.
Dressed in a floor length peach dress, Oprah told her audience about her childhood, about growing up poor in the segregated US state of Mississippi, and about living with her grandmother until the age of seven without electricity. Her grandmother’s wish for Oprah, to someday work for some “good white folks” who would let her take home food, turned into a life of being a news reporter, a talk show host, an actor, a producer, a girl’s school founder in South Africa, and a woman worth $3.2 billion, according to Forbes.
Oprah names her son Canaan because it was his death that gave her a second chance, a new life. “I thought, ‘Before the baby was born, I’m going to have to kill myself,’ ” she told Piers Morgan during an interview. Oprah’s father, to whom her mother had sent her from Milwaukee to live with him in Nashville, was unaware that his 14-year-old daughter had been raped and was pregnant. But he made it quite clear to his daughter, “I would rather see a daughter of mine floating down the Cumberland River … than to bring shame on this family and the indecency of an illegitimate child.”
Unable to find support in anyone, Oprah says that she “did stupid things like drinking detergent and all that kind of crazy stuff that you do when you’re trying to get attention when you’re really just trying to cry for help.”
“But this is my 14-year-old self. I don’t even know what I thought the plan was going to be. … You’re having a baby out of wedlock, your life is over. So when the baby died – the baby was never brought home from the hospital – when the baby died, I knew that it was my second chance.”
“So I went back to school, and nobody knew. Because had anybody known at that time, I wouldn’t have been able to be head of student council. I wouldn’t have been able to be speaking champion in forensics. … I wouldn’t have been chosen as one of the two teenagers in the state of Tennessee to go to the White House conference on youth. None of those things would have happened, and the entire trajectory of my life would have been different.”
After Oprah names her son Canaan and reflects upon her life, she tells her Australian audience that the key to coming out of a traumatic experience is to grab that second chance, to move on, and to find your true self. “The point of the journey we’re all on is ‘how do you become more of yourself?’ Nobody can touch you because you are as authentically you as you can be.”