Growing Up “Keisha” in a World of Ashleys and Joshes

3 min read

In 7th grade, I pleaded with my mother to let me change my name to one less “black.” I didn’t use those words exactly, but I’d gleaned by then that, just like my dark skin, my name was considered inferior somehow. We’d just moved to Texas from Georgia where I’d experienced for the first time the anguish and confusion of being the only black girl in my “gifted and talented” classes full of white kids. I was in the midst of my racial identity crisis.

My mom took me and my sister to an enrollment assessment a few weeks before the school year began. As she checked boxes on forms and took notes, the counselor asked me, “Do you have a nickname you’d like to go by?”

Seeing this as an opportunity to create a new identity from the start, my eyes danced as I answered: “Yes! My nickname is Amy.”

She gave me a curious look, no doubt wondering how you get “Amy” from “Keisha,” then glanced at my mom, who pursed her lips and said firmly, “She doesn’t have a nickname. It’s just Keisha.”

I folded my arms across my chest, slid down in my chair and pouted. There went my chance to have a wonderful life as a black Amy. Keisha it would be. Me and my “black” name. Why had my parents saddled me with this glaringly “ethnic” moniker? My three sisters all have French names!

Recently on the talk show that I hope is in its ninth life aka The View, co-host Raven- “I am from every continent in Africa, except for one” Symoné spouted:

Just to bring it back, can we take back “racist” and say “discriminatory,” because I think that’s a better word. And I am very discriminatory against words like the ones that they were saying in the video. I’m not about to hire you if your name is Watermelondrea. It’s just not going to happen. I’m not going to hire you.

Raven, dear badly needing to have your mind decolonized Raven, have you ever wondered why we live in a world where words like “white” and “light” connote purity, but “black” and “dark” signify evil? A world where the “black” people have been continually subjugated merely for existing with “dark” skin? The same world in which names popular among “black” people, like Sheniqua, LaShonda, Terrell or DeAndre are derided, but names popular with the “white” people such as Susan, Becky, Josh and Tanner are respected?

As mentioned in this excellent piece from Gadfly on the Wall, black American names are often influenced by several factors including religious, historical, political, cultural and just plain old creative (and last I checked, creativity is laudable).

My own name is believed to derive from the biblical name “Keziah.” I’m eternally grateful to my parents for refusing to let me discard my name. A name which I’ve grown to love and wouldn’t change for anything.

There's nothing wrong with having a "black" name like Keisha| The Girl Next Door is Black

“Keisha” reached its height of popularity in the mid-1970s | source

I’ve seen the statistics, I’ve read Freakonomics and I know some people discriminate against those of us with so-called “black” (or pejoratively: “ghetto”) names because of their prejudices. What else is new? If it’s not my skin color that’s too dark, it’s my hair that’s too nappy or unprofessional, my nose is too wide, or my name that’s too black.

I learned a while ago to stop trying to change myself to fit European standards in search of acceptance. I like “Keisha.” What Keisha is, is what I make of it. My name doesn’t hold me back. You know what holds people back? Trying to be someone they’re not, to please and gain approval from others.

I am not interested in befriending, spending time around,  nor working with people who would dismiss me without knowing me solely due to my name – which I didn’t even have any involvement in selecting. You become who you surround yourself with and I’ll pass on ignorance.

When I did the Jesse Lee Peterson show earlier this year, toward the end of the show, a white man who called in asked me to repeat my name. When I did, he replied with a snide chuckle, “Keisha? Oh that’s a good one” and then proceeded to try to put me in my place. I don’t need approval from the likes of him. He can keep his nose in the air. The molecules he’s breathing must smell foul with the stench of ignorance.

Again: there is nothing inherently wrong with being “black.” It’s a skin color. The meaning is human-infused. Likewise, there’s nothing inherently wrong about black culture. Our view of blackness is influenced by white supremacy which needs anti-blackness to survive.

For Raven’s sake, I hope she learns from this. There are people who will judge her for being a black lesbian with a shocking-pink birdhawk, dating a woman named AzMarie, but I will only be judging her for the ridiculous words that continue to spew from her mouth.

There's nothing wrong with having a "black" name Raven-Symone | The Girl Next Door is Black

To the Keishas, Jamals, LaKeishas, Marquis’, Sheniquas, Tyrells, Ebonys, Darius’, Beyonces, Maliks and yes, Watermelondreas, embrace your name. Never let anyone make you feel you’re less than for being given the name you have.

What do you think? Do you agree with Raven or think she’s wrong? Have you been discriminated against because of your name?

 

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29 Comments
  • Catherine
    January 15, 2016

    Two of my three children (now adults) have somewhat ethnic names. My daughter, Oona—her name is Gaelic and I wanted her to have a name that goes back to her Irish roots. Many of my family live there. My middle son’s name is Roman–not a common name (thank godess) and my older son has a more common name–Jake. Keisha. Your name is freakin’ allsome! Don’t ever think it isnt! But I can kinda understand. When my daughter was younger teachers would mispronounce her name–people would even tell me–“What kind of a name is THAT”. I would politely say “Fuck you–it’s a damn beautiful name.” ( I don’t mince words). Now Oona loves her name. She’s in the corporate world and her name is one people remember. So is yours. As a white woman, it’s hard for me to completely understand what trials and tribulations black women go through. I think ALL women have many obstacles to overcome. I’m over 60. I can’t get hired due to ageism. Anyway. Even some white people don’t blend in with the blondes and blues. My hair is dark and coarse and my features are strong. I LOVE my dark features. I LOVE my crossed-eyes. It’s who I am. And you, my friend, are a beautiful you! Glad to have reconnected with your blog! Hugs!

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      January 18, 2016

      I love my name now and wouldn’t change it for anything, unfortunately kids don’t always have the same self-acceptance. I love the name Oona! Thanks for your comment, Catherine!

  • Keesha "Isleland Gurl" Metcalfe
    October 31, 2015

    Hey Keisha! I’m Keesha too and I can absolutely relate to your arguments. We do tend to wrongfully judge people by their names even without having seen them or met them. I love my name. Yes, it’s Black. But this is who I am. And this is who I’m proud to be. So pleased to have met another Black blogger with the same name as me. You are a great writer….Keep on doing your thing girlfriend.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      November 6, 2015

      Hi Keesha! I like how you spell your name. I bet you have fewer people calling you “Keh-sha” like I do sometimes. Haha. Thanks so much for your kind comment. Always happy to “meet” another Ke(i)sha!

  • Jarret Ruminski
    October 17, 2015

    Wonderful piece. The quote “You know what holds people back? Trying to be someone they’re not, to please and gain approval from others” ought to be trademarked. Oh, and one more thing: I’ve never met anyone named Watermelondrea, but if they exist, they’re probably very nice people 😉

  • BritishMumUSA
    October 15, 2015

    Keisha, Keisha, Keisha!!!!!

    I love your name, and I love all names…. As parents we think long and hard about what we are going to name our children. I remember telling the Hubs to so many, as they were names of kids I went to school with that I disliked.. I have grown up with the strangest name ever….. Raymanda!!!! It is originally from South Africa…. YEP!!!! I to went through a phase of “Mandy, Amanda” Then one day I said, nope this is mine and I like it. The Ray at the beginning has served me well in the Corporate world as so many men think they are meeting with a man!! Nope, just little old me boys!!!

    I am lucky that I was raised never to judge a book by its color or title!!! It is what is inside that counts…. My children are the same way. One of F’s bestie on campus right now is Ephram, Thea, and Keisha!!!!!! Great group of kids, with AWESOME names….

    Psssttttt…. I love your name!!!!

    xoxoxo

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 17, 2015

      I never thought to ask the origin of your name, though you’re the first I’ve met with your name. I would not have guessed South African, but that makes sense now that you’ve mentioned it. It’s definitely not a name that’s easy to forget! It seems like a name that fits you (well, what I know of you).

      That’s cool about your daughter’s friends. The name Keisha has had a resurgence in popularity with this younger millennial generation – perhaps from parents who grew up with Keishas of my generation?

      Thanks for your comment, Raymanda. 🙂

  • Bliss Girl
    October 14, 2015

    Growing up with the name Amira, I always wondered why I had to have that name versus amy or allison. It bothered me that I couldn’t find my name on pencils or key chains. Once I got older I learned the meaning of my name (princess in arabic) and how my name was chosen. Like you, I’m glad my parents made the choice they did, and I wear my name proudly like a crown!

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 17, 2015

      Oh boy do I know the fruitless hunt for products with your name on it! I finally found something – 30+ years since I got this name – on a Coke bottle. I was so tickled. My name is never on anything!

      Amira is a very pretty name and I immediately thought it’d be a fitting name for royalty.

  • Yulunda G.
    October 13, 2015

    I must admit that I am a sheltered child. God has covered me in so many ways and have kept me from knowing IF I was being discriminated against as He knows His child (LOL). I grew up on the West Coast in a city that was pretty tolerable, unlike the south. But, I did attend college in Mississippi and did not give people’s opinion the time of day.

    I have always believed I was the apple of God’s eye and people just ought to want to be around me! LOL. Thank God for confidence while being an encourager and humble.

    I personally have sold Raven to another race! She is simply wrong!

    Love this and your sincerity.

    Glad we met at BlogHer and I shall visit you often as you are one beautiful woman inside and out.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 17, 2015

      I smiled while reading your comment. I love that confidence! It jumps off the screen. You could bottle and sell it!

      LOL that you’ve already kicked Raven out! I keep trying to figure out who we can trade her for.

      Thanks so much for your sweet and funny comment. 🙂

  • sourgirlohio
    October 13, 2015

    Why, oh why, would it be fair to ever judge someone’s name??? I mean, that’s not something you choose or should ever feel the need to change for anyone.

    I was always jealous of anyone with a unique name. I’m Jewish and it seems like every girl is Hannah or Sarah because of tradition. (one of those is my name) Different is good! And judging people by their names is a damned outdated practice. I wish Ms. Symone saw things differently, she’s so young and has such a big audience.

    Great post.

    • Keisha || The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 17, 2015

      We humans do a pretty good job of finding arbitrary reasons to pass judgement on each other!

      My friends who shared their name with many others often had cool nicknames. Or like I mentioned in another comment, they went by their first name and last initial to differentiate themselves.

      Thanks for your comment!

  • Mrs. AOK
    October 13, 2015

    I’ve already told you before.. I adore the name Keisha. Keisha holds lovely memories for me. 🙂 I grew up in a very diverse area of Texas, so I heard tons of “ethnic” names from a myriad of cultures. My name as you know, is not common, but I’m not sure if anyone has discriminated against me for it. I do worry about my girls being discriminated against: my eldest’s name is old school Mexican/Latin and my youngest daughter’s name is unique- I’ve also been told it’s a black name. I did not want to name my kids names that would hurt their opportunities, I seriously wavered when it came to my eldest daughter’s name because of this, I almost swapped out her middle name for her first.
    However, like your mom, I want my daughter to say her name and be proud. One day she may have a blog with her name where she educates people on life and culture. 🙂
    XOXO

    • Mrs. AOK
      October 13, 2015

      Also, what happened to Raven? That’s so not Raven…

      • The Girl Next Door is Black
        October 15, 2015

        I love your comment!

        I’m generally not a fan of people making important decisions based on avoiding the ignorance of others. I’m sure your daughter’s name is lovely.

        BTW, have you checked out #ThatsSoRaven on Twitter? 😉

  • Ashley
    October 12, 2015

    As someone with the normal average name – it can get annoying. When you mention Ashley, you have to clarify which one of the 20 you know. I like my name, but I think a more unique ones definitely has its perks.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 12, 2015

      I was waiting for an Ashley or Josh to weigh in. 😉

      I have friends who for the longest time, even into adulthood, kept being called “Ashley [last initial]” because that’s how people grew up distinguishing them in class.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 12, 2015

      Lol, exactly!

    • Ashley
      October 12, 2015

      I’ve been married for years and have a different last name, but am still Ashley G. to some people I grew up with.

  • Jeremiah
    October 12, 2015

    I love yer name and think you’re awesome!

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 12, 2015

      I agree with you on both counts. 😉 Thanks!

      Incidentally, in 4th grade I bonded over name teasing with a classmate named Jeremiah. Kids would always sing “Jeremiah was a bullfrog” to him. He hated it. :/

    • Jeremiah
      October 12, 2015

      Haha, that sounds familiar.

  • Derek
    October 11, 2015

    Did you ever ask your parents how or where the name came from? I kinda went through the same thing. What Hispanic kid growing up in El Salvador has a name like Derek. It was my grandmother who suggested the name as it came from a boy she would take care of while she lived in CA as a nanny.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 12, 2015

      I asked my mom once and there wasn’t any notable tear-jerking story behind it. I think it’s just that it was a popular name for black girls born during the ’70s and early ’80s.

  • Kenya G. Johnson
    October 11, 2015

    I’ve never felt discriminated against because of my name. I’ve not heard from plenty of places I sent my resume and application into but I’ve also gone on plenty of interviews in confindence because they HAD to know that I was Black before they saw me. I think it would be so much worse as my mom has experienced with the name Pamela to walk into an interview with a short afro and can see on first impression she’s already been discredited. So I guess that’s the upside to having a black name – not meeting THAT face.

    I was wondering what the uproar on twitter was about Raven but I didn’t read any further. Tsk tsk – smh.

    The pet peeve I’ve incured with saying what my name is, was someone asking, “Like the coffee?” Ugh!

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 13, 2015

      You know, I never really gave much thought to what it would be like to have a “Surprise! I’m black” name and show up at an interview to shocked expressions.

      Kenya, like the coffee? OMG. Lol.

  • siriusbizinus
    October 11, 2015

    I’ve actually gotten flak for my last name rather than my first name. It’s German in origin, and whenever I used to tell my friends about the country of origin of my “weird” last name they’d ask me if I was descended from – get this – Nazis. Eventually I learned that my grandfather got an Anglicized name from my great-grandfather because they wanted my grandfather to fit in with other kids. They wanted to avoid the crap that even I sometimes have to go through just for having a “German” name.

    Judging people by their names is pointless. I feel bad for Raven and people like her who will refuse to get to know wonderful human beings just because one’s name isn’t up to her subjective standards. There’s more shame in inherently disliking someone’s name than in anyone’s name itself.

    And for the record, Keisha is an awesome name.

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