A rose by any other name…

So most bloggers and news outlets have already ran with the story of Ms. Marijuana Pepsi (Jackson) Sawyer. The accomplished woman with the odd moniker. Now is my turn. In brief, Marijuana Pepsi Jackson was the name given to this woman (Sawyer was her married name), a name a police officer almost arrested her for because he thought she was trying to pull a fast one on him. Despite her name, or maybe because of its unique character, Marijuana is a bright and successful woman. Currently, she is a teacher holding a Masters degree. She is working towards a doctorate as well. I would link to a story or two about her but honestly, I feel they’re mostly written in a condescending tone. I’ll leave you to Google her.

I really like Marijuana’s story. Over the past 3 years or so, I saw a lot of blogging and messageboard posting about so-called “ghetto” names or “Black” names. People deride the parents and forecast lives of unaccomplishment and shame for the children. I have always thought that terribly unfair because I wondered who was supposed to be the arbiter of “good” names? I also take issue with the implication that names must be close to a certain European/Western origin or else they are not worthy. Even people who choose to name their children “real” African or Arab names are laughed at because after all, ain’t they just regular ol’ Black folk?

Not that I’d do it, but who am I to say that a person is wrong for naming their child after a car they like? People have been named Mercedes for years but I hardly hear anyone talking about them in a negative way. Name your child Alexxus though and we might as well call Child Protective Services! I guess your child is better off had you stuck with Alexis?

There was a time when I really disliked my name. It’s Arabic in origin, but most people don’t know or care and would correctly assume I was Black. Sometimes people incorrectly assume I’m a guy, which is not so odd as I’ve met two men with my name. I felt weird about my name as a kid even though people would tell me that it was pretty. I assumed they were saying that because they weren’t going to outright say it was fucked up. I thought my name was very childish as during the early 80s, there were no adults walking around with my name. I told myself that when I was 18, I would get my name changed, basically switching my middle and first names. I thought Denise would be more palatable and seemed mature. I didn’t do it. How weird would it be to go all of your life with one name and then switch?

Not too long ago, I was gettingbusiness cards printed and I thought long and hard about how I wanted to present myself. A lot of my professors and attorneys I’ve met opt for the first initial, middle name, last name on the card. When you do that, however, people address you always as your middle name. Many of them will never even know what that first initial stands for. I wondered if this was my opportunity to be Denise again. I kind of liked the way the first initial + middle name looked. But I thought it would be kind of like selling out. Who was I trying to appease? Trying to make it easier for people who mispronounce my name on the regular (I don’t know why, it ‘s not THAT hard)? Trying to make the people reading resumes think I was white long enough to make it to the interview? Nah, I’ll pass.

If Marijuana Pepsi can do her thing, I’m sure I can. And this is not to forget that she probably has been discounted from many things and denied opportunities because of her name. I’m sure of it. However, the important thing is that she’s still fabulous and still moving up in the world. I admire the fact that while she must have been teased mercilessly as a child and looked at sideways as an adult, she keeps it moving. Whether your name is ShaCristal Acura Jenkins, Barack Obama, or Tiffany Williamson, I bet there’s a lesson for you in there somewhere.


Filed under Routine Ramblings

11 responses to “A rose by any other name…

  1. bubblin' brown shuga

    and i thought condoleeza rice, beyonce, venus and serena had it bad. even when she was on drugs, mary j. blige didnt spell out the j.

    my boss asked me the other day why black people “never” use “normal” names.

    i explained to him that if thats the case then abnormal IS normal to us.

    even still my kids have racially ambiguous names. its noble to win the fight but im not going to set them up like that. to me its like feeding them a diet of koolaid and now laters just to see if they’ll make it in life with any teeth left and then praise them for having done so.

    seems abusive to me. what exactly is the point?

    • LisaAngelaPamelaRenee

      As an aside, you won’t believe how long it took for me to realize that nahlayders was really NOW AND LATERS.

  2. K

    I’m going to have to slightly disagree with you. Sure, some names make sense. I don’t see anything wrong with naming your kid Mercedes. I wouldn’t do it, but that doesn’t mean that someone else can’t. I just hope that the parent who gives the child their name can explain why they have that name. I may hate my first name, but I understand where it came from and why it was chosen. Amusedly enough, my name indicates an Eastern European descent. I don’t want that for my kid. I want a name that is unique. I’m not asking people for conformity when picking names, I’m just asking that they think of their kids futures when they are assigning something that will follow them for the rest of their lives. I cannot see any reason for someone to name their kids Marijuana and while I’m glad it didn’t prevent her from making something of herself, I think her mother is an idiot for handicapping her daughter in that way.

  3. laughing808

    glad to hear a success story of someone with a name such as that.

    If I were in HR or a recruiter this resume would not have made it past my desk. Sorry to say.

    I’ll stick with traditional names for my future kids.

  4. bubblin' brown shuga

    and the daddy too!!

    we always blame the mother. the daddy might have co-signed on that mess of a name too.

    sidenote: it took me the longest to grasp the concept of nowlaters being two words let alone having an “&” in it.

  5. geo

    as someone with a highly unique name, i am glad to see people with “funny” names succeeding.

    i think minorities, black people in particular, forget that the name is not what would cause someone to deny you an opportunity-it is your ethnicity. and even more so, the problem lies within the other person, which you cannot change. it irks me to see people forgo their name for the sake of fitting in.

  6. Hello there!

    I think that people need to realize that a name has a connotation attached and that connotation may reflect a lower class background…which is NOT helpful when trying to break into certain fields. Is this fair? No but it IS reality…

    I once knew a brotha whose name was Tristan. Some people thought it was a woman’s name but many white people recognized it as a man’s name and they NEVER assumed he was black until they saw him in person. Another brotha I knew was named Chandler and had the same reactions.

    Names really DO carry certain connotations. We need to accept that truth.

  7. And… one more point I want to make…

    Barack was going by the first name of “Barry” when he was hired out of law school by a white law firm…

    End of story.

  8. I’m glad to see Marijuana was able to get beyond the name. Had I been named that…I think a name change would have been a gift to myself for my 18th birthday.

    It’s all good to have the freedom of naming your child what you want (within reason). But we have to admit, some people take it too far. Come on – Hennesey and Alize’ – for a kid’s name…uh no. lol I went to high school with a girl who had 15 middle names. Now what was that all about? And more than half of them were difficult to pronounce. But I digress…

    Anyhoo, in no means should we feel an “obligation” to vanilla-cize the name game process. But just be mindful of the name we’re gracing our children with. But really, in a few years I doubt if it will be so much of an issue – in recent years I’ve met quite a few vanilla babies named: Kenyatta, Kenesha, Shante, LaJerome, and Ludacris. Don’t even ask me about the Ludacris kid…I’m still trying to figure that one out. lol

  9. I could not assume the success or failure of my child by saddling it with a name that not only had a negative connotation, but an illegal (tic) one at that… Maybe it is selling out to be mainstream, but I would rather take my chances with being a sellout than a moniker of Alize or Nalaters.

  10. Gizzle

    I always thought “now & laters” were nihilators like ‘Annihilators’. I didn’t understand it, but it was candy, so who cares, it just tastes GOOOOOD!

    I’ve met more and more Asian people with “black” names like Jerome, Terrance, Shaquanna . . . cause they pick a name to use as their American name b/c they feel like their real Chinese/Korean/Thai name is too hard to pronounce. Since they get to pick, they pick what they like and what stands out, some pick more euro/mainstream names like ‘michelle’ or ‘ashley’, but I’ve met an Asian girl named like Lakeisha before who went to grad school with me.

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