In a new interview with PEOPLE, The View co-host Sunny Hostin opened up about the struggles of her Afro-Latina identity, and the ways she’s felt that she betrayed that identity to have success in television.
Born Asunción Cummings to an African-American father and Puerto Rican mother in the South Bronx, she says she felt different even as a child when family had a hard time seeing her as both Black and Latina. It’s a topic she broaches in depth in her upcoming memoir, I Am These Truths.
“I have lived in the gray for so long, and it really is an uncomfortable place to be,” the 51-year-old lawyer and journalist told the publication. “My Black family considered me an other … my Puerto Rican and Jewish family treated me as other because I didn’t look like any of them either.”
As she got older, studying journalism and law and beginning her career in TV, she unexpectedly found herself feeling like the “other” again. She was going as her birth name, Asunción, when she started working on Court TV with Nancy Grace. When the famed legal commentator couldn’t pronounce her name, Grace encouraged her to go with a nickname instead (no legal name change occurred, though). That’s how “Sunny” came to be.
“She struggled with it so much,” Hostin recalled. “‘Asunción, it’s not going to work, and you’re really good and you’re really talented. You should use a nickname.’ I just became Sunny Hostin, and I just went with it, honestly.”
And though she is known far and wide by that name now, she admits that a part of her doesn’t feel good about the decision she made. She believes the decision played into the confusion some have about what her background is.
“I still regret it,” she said to PEOPLE. “I think I allowed my identity to be stripped from me, for my job. I don’t think Nancy was trying to strip me of my identity, or you know, Americanize me, or colonialize me, or anything like that. Nancy’s my friend, and it wasn’t ill-intentioned. I don’t think people would question my identity as much if I stuck with my given name.”
Whatever name people call her by though, Hostin hopes that her book and story will help people see her differently, and see her as proudly Afro-Latina.
“I want to be seen in my complexity,” she said. “I am Afro-Latina; I am many things. And it’s weird in this country. People can’t acknowledge that — they can’t see that.”
Hostin is not the first person to ditch their real name to go as a variation or something completely different to get ahead in entertainment. Hit the flip to find out what these stars’ names actually are.
Jo-Issa Rae Diop
We call her Issa Rae, but the Insecure creator’s real name is Jo-Issa Rae Diop. She’s Senegalese. Her father was born in the Western African country while her mother was born in Louisiana.
Euphemia LatiQue Sumpter
While we know her as Tika Sumpter, The Haves and the Have Nots star actually was born Euphemia. Tika is her nickname. As for her real name, she told WWD in 2018 that Euphemia means “well-spoken.”
“Euphemia’s been spoken over my life for so long. That’s why I think names are important,” she said. “That’s who you are. You’re being called by a name of meaning.”
Yandielle Unique Smith
Nitara Carlynn Long
If you though Nia Long’s name came from the Swahili language (c’mon Kwanzaa lovers!), that’s a good guess, but it’s actually not even Nia. Instead the Love Jones star’s real name is actually Nitara. The name is actually of Hindi origin, and it means, “Having deep roots.”
You know her as Meghan Markle, but Meghan is actually this former Royal’s middle name. Her real first name is Rachel. That name, interesting enough, was the name of her star-making character on the USA hit Suits. It’s unclear why she started going as Meghan but she has reportedly been doing so since at least college.
Born Scott Leo Diggs, “Taye” was a nickname from childhood, a super shortened version of Scottthat just stuck. He liked it, so he just started going as Taye when he became an adult.
“When I was younger, people used to call me “Scott-taye.’ And when I got to college I just dropped to Taye,” he told Today.
Mahershalalhashbaz Ali Gilmore
Can you pronounce it?
Here’s what Mahershala said about his actual name, Mahershalalhashbaz:
“My birth name is Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore. In the Bible, that’s the name of the prophet Isaiah’s second son. He was instructed to write the name in capital letters on a rock, and it means ‘divine restoration’ or ‘speedy to the spoils,'” he told The Hollywood Reporter. My mom, Willicia, had a dream about it and felt very strongly it should be my name.”
Camara DaCosta Johnson
As fun as Ya-Ya is to say, I think we all could have guessed that wasn’t the actress and model’s real name. The name does have some Portuguese origins (I’ve also seen it has African origins as well), and it means “room.” The star has been open about her Brazilian and African-American background.
Maria Halle Berry
We know her as Halle Berry, but the Oscar winner was actually born Maria. She had her name legally changed to make her middle name her first name. Her parents were actually the ones who made the change, doing so when she was just five years old.
Va’Shaundya Karlette O’Neal
“Shaunie” is not as simple of a name as you would think for Basketball Wives star and producer Shaunie O’Neal. She was born Va’Shaundya Karlette O’Neal, but professionally, and really, since she became a public figure after marrying Shaquille O’Neal, she has been happily going by Shaunie.