The Burden Of Feeling You Need To Prove You Aren’t As Ghetto As Your Name Is Perceived To Be
I sat in the conference room at work waiting to be introduced for my presentation when I heard, “Next we have (long pause).”
“It’s Jerrica,” I said calmly, just as I had many times before. Inside, an attitude was brewing. I wasn’t sure why I was so offended at this particular incident — I’ve had to deal with this my whole life –still, I was bothered. I was reminded, yet again, that my name is still considered non-traditional, which in America is code for ghetto.
If you don’t have the Americanized standard of a name, everyone calls your moniker the g-word. Any name beginning with Sha, La, Ka, or Ja automatically gets you thrown into the ghetto pile. As a Jerrica, my name was often misspelled and mispronounced, or I was given an entirely different name altogether. My doctor of 13 years still says my name wrong and I’ve honestly never corrected him. It gets to a point where you’ve been correcting people for almost 30 years, and you’re just plain tired. Now, when a restaurant asks for a name, I simply give them my last name to avoid any mishaps. When a guy asks for my number, I say my name is Jae because it’s easier. There are so many people who don’t know my real name because there was a time I hated telling the story of where it came from or hearing how “unique” or “different” it is. Usually, people will say, “Your name isn’t that bad,” but every time I have to correct someone, it’s a reminder that I’m forced to make them identify with who I am.
As a child, I walked around with a name tag that said Jaime because it was an easier J name. It’s not that I hate my name. It’s just that I want people to pronounce it correctly without feeling like I have to give them a cookie for saying it right on the first try. The truth is if you have a name that is not common, there will be small challenges along the way. Your resume will look ethnic, there will be constant explanations and corrections along with fake smiles and laughs, and the constant need to prove you aren’t as ghetto as your name. Over time, that can be exhausting.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized the importance of my name and how my parents created it. My name has also become more common –there was even a character on The Chi with the name Jerrica, which made me smile by the way. I say this to say, having a unique name does have its challenges but I think of all of the little Black and brown girls who will be proud when they see someone named Jerrica as Manager of a Fortune 500 company. Representation matters whether we realize it or not. My parents named me out of love and significance and I’ve come to learn you should be proud of your name no matter how hard it is to pronounce. Always remember you are more than your name and it doesn’t own you or limit who you can become.