HuffPo Author to Girl Who Changed Black Name: “I’m Saddened by Your Decision”

November 8, 2013  |  

Earlier this week, a girl in Kansas got something she’d been wishing for for a long time: a name change. Her mother named her Keisha but she didn’t like it and wanted to change it to the less obviously black Kylie. But Chevonne Harris wishes the teen hadn’t.

In “An Open Letter to Kylie (formerly known as Keisha) Austin“, Harris starts out admitting she gets where Austin is coming from:

With a somewhat “black” name myself (pronounced Sha-von), I can wholeheartedly relate to the stereotypes and generalizations that come with carrying a name that typically isn’t found on a pre-made keychain — it definitely doesn’t make for a climatic ending to the class field trip.

Harris wants Austin to understand a name is just a name, but even if you don’t believe that, some of the most successful black people have “black” names that are maybe hard to pronounce or come with nasty assumptions:
Some of our best, black talent have well, “black” names. Consider Barack, Carmelo, Beyonce, Oprah, or Bre’Andria, Cre’Andria and Dre’Andria Thompson, the African-American triplets who recently graduated top of their class from Norfolk State University — all “black” names, but names also associated with greatness and remarkable achievement.

Austin told her Kansas City paper she never felt like she “connected” with her name but Harris asks, did she ever really try? Did she try to understand the name her mother, a white woman, chose for the strong black woman Austin would become to have?

More than words on a certificate, your birth name represents a rich, complex and colorful history rooted in so much more than corny rap lyrics and slight alterations beginning or ending in “La” or “Sha.”

Besides, no name change will protect a biracial woman from racial prejudice or preconceived notions. People will always look twice at her hair, her light skin, her freckles, and think they know something about her. Harris imparts an important lesson that goes for all brown girls, not just ones with “ghetto” names: “You tell people who you are, never is it the other way around.”
And lastly, Harris lets the Kansas City teen know a person should never, ever change who she is to please others:

While I hope your new found name change will give you the peace you’re searching for, I pray this is the first and last time you adjust yourself because of what others think.

Harris is so right. Let’s hope Kylie learns an important lesson, but that she never regrets her decision. What do you think about the girl’s decision to change her name?

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