African American Names in the Age of Quvenzhanè

May 6, 2013  |  

Kenyan-Somali writer Warsan Shire once said, “Give your daughters difficult names. Give your daughters names that command the full use of tongue. My name makes you want to tell me the truth. My name doesn’t allow me to trust anyone that cannot pronounce it right.” This is one of my favorite quotes. Our names are our first semblance of identity. Why not be crowned in glory? This quote reminds me of the reporter who attempted to rename Quvenzhanè on the red carpet calling her “Annie” after the role she had just won. Quvenzhanè quickly and politely corrected her. At just 9 years old, it’s clear that she’s had to deal with this many times before. Her name is a mix of her parents’ names, Qulyndreia and Venjie, with African inspiration. She carries the name with such pride and refuses to let anyone rename her. She is truly an example for all children of color with beautiful and undervalued names.

This topic is much more complicated than I’ve been able to address here but I hope this has started a dialogue. Naming in the African American community has been a hot topic lately and I hope that you won’t be so quick to write off distinctly African American names for your children. The creation and revival of distinctly African American names are rich in history, demand a sort of reverence, and instill pride in our community. Part of what it means to be African American is to take pieces from all of our cultures: African, Latina, European, and make our own tradition. Names are a huge part of that. Crown your children at birth with a name that embraces all of them. Whether that means you choose a name like Ashley in honor of a family member, or you reach back to our African roots and choose something like Yohance, meaning God’s gift, or choose from that third category and create your own tradition, do so knowing how important these names are to our community. We cannot dismiss our own traditions simply because others have attempted to do so.

So what do you think? Would you (did you) name your child a distinctly African American name? Why or why not?


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