Erickka Sy Savané
I was on the phone the other day with a receptionist. The woman was having me spell my daughter’s name for
what had to be the 100th time. I try to be patient when this happens
because I know her first name is a doozy–11 letters–and African. It’s like
nothing most of us Americans have ever heard before. So when I begin to detect this woman’s
tone changing, I make sure to chill. We’ll get there eventually.
“Excuse me?” I say, not sure if I heard her correctly.
“Why’d you give her a name that she’d be lucky if she can pronounce, let alone spell?”
put the phone down and start taking off my earrings. Had this woman
lost her mind? Of all the rude comments! And to think that she was
representing someone’s business. I’m a second away from reaching into
the phone to grab her neck when I remind myself that I knew this would
happen. In fact, I almost didn’t give my daughter her name because of
people like that receptionist.
“You can’t name her that!” said
just about everyone when I told them the name I had chosen for my unborn
child. Others would just start singing, ‘Mama Say Mama Sa Mama Coosa’
from Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin.’” They said it
reminded them of that song. At one point, I stopped telling people
because I didn’t want to hear it anymore.
What they failed to see was that I loved the name from the moment I first heard it. Ever fall in love with a sound? For some it’s the sweet cackle of a baby’s giggle, for me it was the
rhythm of this name. Like music to my ears. The fact that it was African
made it even better. Not just because my husband is African, but
because I wanted a name that my child could live in to, a name that
whenever spoken would create images of gold lit skies, and blackness, like the continent itself.
Yet, it’s funny how I still had doubts.
you have a name?” asked the doctor who delivered my daughter as she
placed her on top of me, still wet and slippery like a fish freshly out
of the water. I was tired. Exhausted from a natural birth that had me
laboring for 24 hours. Finally, I told her the short version because in
that moment, I was no longer sure. Would I dare give her a name with 11
letters and five syllables? Would she be able to get a job? What if she
was a gentle soul incapable of handling the teasing and insults that
might come her way? Heck, what if she didn’t like it?!
said the doctor, letting the name roll off of her tongue. “What’s the
long version?” I spit it out. Every. Last. Syllable. There. Say what you
want. “Girl, you betta give that child all that name!”
both laughed and in that moment I knew that I couldn’t go halfway. Why?
To make it easy? To please other people? I’d been doing that my whole
life and where had it gotten me? If I couldn’t stand for the name I
wanted to give my child when would I ever stand for anything? This name
was for both my child and me.
think about the receptionist on the other end of the phone. Right now
she represents all the ignorance and prejudice that will likely be a
part of my daughter’s future.
How would I want her or anyone for that matter to respond?
Patience? Tried that.
Maybe I’d meet fire with fire.
pick up the phone, and this time it is my tone that has changed.
“Listen, Ma’am, I’m sorry if this name isn’t convenient for you, but you’re a receptionist not the name police. Mind your
How do you respond to name shaming?