When I thought of a name for my first born, I never thought that I would in her college years, have a discussion about her wanting to change her name.
I thought about the name I would give my daughter (if the baby was a girl) before her birth. Naming her after my grandmother, someone I loved dearly was a no brainer! Indeed a daughter was born and I decided that rather than Timinisha, I would shorten the name and call my baby Tinisha. Her tiny frame led me to believe she would be able to say her name well.
I thought about how much I loved my grandmother, and how much I loved my daughter. I though about how honored my grandmother would have been if she were alive to know I had given my child her name. I thought about proud my daughter would be when she grew up and heard my story of why she was named Tinisha.
I never thought about ethnicity, prejudice, or discrimination. I never thought about the “a” sound having any particular significance.
This week once again, I was rudely awakened from my peaceful state of mind to the ever-ending story of discrimination and prejudice. The reference by some, to not hire someone because of their ethnic sounding name, brought to mind the stories I read and heard of people who were being discriminated against because of their name. It also brought to mind the poignant moment when my daughter a postgraduate student then, came to me and wanted to talk about “changing her name”. My heart dropped right, and I was filled with so many negative emotions I still can’t describe. My eyes welled up with tears as I waited respectfully, to hear the rest of her story.
There was not a steady voice in the bedroom as we discussed the enormity of this issue. Our voices quivered with emotional pain as we talked with each other and as her sister listened quietly. I was emotional and so was she. I wanted to be an objective listener but I was angry at the world then and now. We talked about why her name was special to me and what I was thinking about when I thought about a name for my daughter. We talked about her friend and her choice, and the cruelty of those who practiced this form of discrimination. We talked about the choices she had and what changing her name would mean for her, for me, and for her other family members. I have to admit, I thought about our ancestors and what they had endured. I wasn’t going to give up without letting my daughter know about their sacrifice. Why should she allow anyone in this discriminatory society to once again make a decision for who she should be? A Jane, Mary, Stephanie, or Sandy. We respect other people’s choices and all we were asking for is that we be respected for the choices we made. I don’t like the names Apple, North, Salty, or Blue Ivy, but I don’t punish the child and respect their parents’ decisions to name them as such!
As much as I understood why my daughter wanted to make the choice she was anticipating, I had to tell her about the impact it would have on her sister, our family, and me. I told her she was free as an adult to make any decision she wanted to, but I would not support any name changing decision. I believe names are special and that people should learn and use your name. It is your identity.
Naming my child was about honoring someone I loved and nothing else. It was about wanting my child to have a connection to a person who loved and cared for me. What an honor!
To those who discriminate against Black people based on their names, step out of your comfort zones and show who you are. Step out and let us hear your story about why an ethnic name upsets you so much that you would allow a family to make decisions that would dishonor their family members. Let us know what it is about a name that would allow you to not provide employment and income to someone who has to take care of a family.
You see, our society is multicultural and will never change. Instead of practicing discrimination (such a negative emotion) let’s practice understanding of the various cultures that make up this society and more importantly, let’s talk to each other about the choices we make.
If you spent some time to talk with my daughter about her name, she would have a lovely story to tell. If you spent some time to talk with my daughter, she and I would not have to spend precious time problem solving solutions, for what to do when she encounters this kind of discrimination.
In my mind, my child’s name Tinisha will always be associated with my beautiful grandma, a person whose name was never descried as ethnic in the country where she lived.
My daughter’s name Tinisha will never be associated with discrimination and hate. I will continue to tell her the story of her great-grandmother and hope that she will be strong enough to rise above the hate and spread love and tolerance instead.