I saw a post on my Tumblr feed that really bothered me today:
I have been just as guilty as this gentlemen in the past, making fun of some of the seemingly ridiculous names I have heard and thanking God that my parents chose something non-indicative of my race. But this time it made me think – what’s in a name? We don’t hear people calling Oprah ghetto and her name is perhaps one of the most unique I have ever heard. Are black women adding “la’s” and “nae’s” to their children’s names to make them sound fancier, or is there something hidden their that we have forgotten through the years?
When our African-American ancestors were removed from their native land, the men who forcibly enslaved them found it too difficult to pronounce and remember the beauty and complexity of their birth names. They stripped them of their names, among other things; I can hear them walking down the line saying, “This one here is Tom, make him Tom II and let’s call him Tom, too.” Gone were the kings and queens of Africa; here stood the slaves, the backbone, of America.
So when freedom finally rang, one of the first steps many slaves took was stripping themselves of the names they previously had no choice but to answer to. I can imagine how freeing that experience was: To no longer have to answer to your “master’s” beck and call AND to no longer be connected to the person they forced you to be. It must have been terrifically freeing. But which name would you choose?
Let’s use Lakeisha as an example.
The “La” prefix found its beginning in Louisiana where French, African and Spanish traditions blended beautifully into a cultural gumbo. Using it in a name was a way for Black Americans to connect with the world they were now living in and the future they dreamed of creating; a future that made their past enslavement and lack of rights a distant history. Moving on to “Keisha”, we find possible roots in Arabic, Hebrew and Swahili. In other words, they were reaching back to their home, to their past and to their ancestors. The origin that sticks out the most to me, and the one I like to believe was the reason for choosing this name, comes from the Hebrew language. In the Bible, Keisha, or Keziah, was the name of one of Job’s daughters. Keisha was born after Job endured and survived the horrendous trials that plagued his life. The women that chose this name did so, identifying with the idea that their lives, and that of there children, were on the upbeat.
So you see, these names are not ghetto; these names are beautiful. They were composed by strong ancestors who persevered through trials we can only imagine. They used these unique names to reclaim their right to be human. They strung emotions together through syllables that allowed them to look forward past the pain and into the future while reconnecting with the roots they were snatched from.
So to the women who deal with ridicule for their name; wear it like a badge of honor. Don’t just look forward to a brighter future like our ancestors did, but help mold it by knocking down the wall of perceptions people place around you. Freedom from persecution is woven into the fabric of your name; it is PROOF that there is always an end to our trials. Your name is strength. Your name is beauty. Your name is perseverance. Your name alone is proof of victory, not poverty. The people who call you ghetto are the same people who would have placed you in slavery, and guess what?
So don’t let them put you in a box now.