According to Shakespeare, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but is that really true? Let me be really honest for a minute: I get petty and super picky about my name and even more so about my daughter’s name. Her name is Christiana, pronounced just like it's spelled. Christy-AH-nah. It's not a difficult name to pronounce or spell, but it does require you to pay attention to every letter. If you rush through it, it's easy to read my daughter’s name as Christina. That’s what a lot of people did, and it drove me crazy! Clearly, the level of emotion I assigned this mispronunciation was about more than my daughter’s name. I know everyone is busy and often multitasking, so it’s easy to miss a letter but all I could think was: If people didn't pay attention to her name, were they going to pay attention to her? And more importantly, what message would these occurrences send to her about her value and worth?
A person's name is the first representation of who they are, and far too often we allow people to repeatedly mispronounce, misspell, or worse of all, flat out change our name to suit their preferences. Let me hear an “Amen!” from everyone who has had someone else assign them a nickname because the other person decided they couldn’t remember your real name. There is also the possibility that the other person decided your name wasn’t important enough for them to remember. Let me hear a resounding “YES!” from everyone who was told something like, “Do you mind if I call you Shawn?” because they didn't want to pronounce LaShawndra. And worse than that, how many have been told, “You should consider changing your name, so people don't get the wrong idea about who you are.”
I have to pause for a minute to acknowledge the reality that certain names garner more positive attention when a person is applying for a job, loan, etc. Is it fair? Absolutely not! Does it happen? Absolutely! We all have to pick and choose the time to adjust our present for the sake of our future, and the time to stand firm on an issue.
Now, back to the topic at hand, I remember sitting in a class my sophomore year of college and having a professor spend no less than five minutes of class time learning how to properly pronounce one of my classmates’ names. My classmate was from Russia, and her name consisted of a lot of consonants and very few vowels. I wasn't upset that he paid so much attention to her name, but I was annoyed that he took class time to do it. But what really bothered me was, when it came to another classmate, whose name was, DeAnndraus, the professor said, “Can I call you Dee?” I wanted to stand up and yell, “Sir! You just learned a whole new language to say the first student’s name, but you're cool just dropping 75% of this student's name…for what???” My friend, DeAnndraus, who started introducing herself as Dee in school shortly after that class, told me it was no big deal. She said people butchered her name for years. But I didn't buy that it was “no big deal.” It was her NAME! What could possibly be more important?
As Black Women, we tend to allow others to dictate who we are and what is important about us. We do it so often that we usually aren’t even aware of it. I believe it is both a coping mechanism and a way to pick and choose our battles to avoid being labeled, “the angry Black Woman.” It is what we do to get by, but it often chips away at our very identity. Those chips create cracks, and before we know it, we are less and less of ourselves and more and more of who we have been told to be. We wear our hair in a way that make others comfortable, we dress in a way that is non-threatening and asexual to others, and we hide our fears and cover up our dreams as to not to interfere with the fears and dreams of others. We bury Our Truths so far down, that we forget what Our Truths really are.
So, what can we do about it? How do we begin to reclaim our narrative and tell others who we are instead of letting them tell us? Well, we start small. We start with our names. When my daughter was 2-years-old, she began to say, “Actually my name is Christiana,” every time someone called her Christina. She still does that today. Most people apologize, some comment on how beautiful of a name it is, and a few don’t acknowledge that she said anything. The bottom line is: All of them hear her, and all of them know who she is. It just one way that she defines herself. It is her way of following the advice of the amazing Audre Lorde, by way of my favorite character in the movie The Best Man, who said, “If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.” Let's all define ourselves for ourselves and let’s start with our name! My name is Christy (that’s with a Ch and a Y)!
Author and Our Truths founder, Christy Pruitt-Haynes combined her 20 years of leadership in organizations including The Memphis Grizzlies, MTV Networks and Infiniti with an education in Human Resources and Organizational Development to create Christy Pruitt-Haynes Consulting and change the professional landscape for women and people of color while helping organizations achieve excellence. This TEDx talk giving executive, wife, mother, aunt, daughter, sister and friend loves travel, laughing uncontrollably and losing herself in great music.
Theme song: I was here by Beyoncé
Proudest moments: The births of my daughter Christiana, niece Nia and organization Our Truths