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Chinagorom Martin: On Black Sisters’ Names

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I am an African American woman and if you knew anything about black sisters you could take a wild guess at my name and be really close. Well, my name is Bon’Quisha. Yes, you heard right – Bon’Quisha, and proudly so. For us, black sisters (at least a good number of us), there ain’t nothing to names and that talk about names and meaning is uppity white people talk; and of course those retarded Africans. Really, what is in a name?

I had gotten used to people giving me that really-that’s-your-name? look. But this African I met did not only make that face when we got introduced but went on to ask, “What does it mean?” Really? Was he being serious? Like it should mean anything, it is just a name. Before I knew it I got a lecture on how his last name became Chinagorom after it was some pre-archaic Mbaise (as if I knew where in the world that is) name whose meaning got left behind several centuries ago. His parents felt their children should not have a surname to which the question, “What does it mean?” got no response or at most an embarrassed “I don’t know.” They are traditional that way, his parents. And so it was that they adopted the dad’s first name as surname. That lecture didn’t end with that personal history: the thing is, names, not only as a means of identification and individualization, are supposed to have meanings, and this varies depending on the cultures. In some cultures parents give their children names by which they express their expectations and good wish for the child’s life. There are cultures where names are used to capture moments in history, usually events and circumstances around the times when the bearers of the names were born.

Dear Lord! Those white preachers whose preaching always lacked that vibrating unction of the Spirit black preachers possess couldn’t have bored me that much. What black sister would understand that gibberish. Purposefulness of names indeed! Forget all you thought about names because here names are sounds, any hollowness by which a stripe of identification can be held. I must agree though, that the unique names trend began in the late 1960s as an offshoot of the black movement at which time African Americans desired to reconnect with their roots by giving their children names of African descent. But like most things black and American, it wasn’t long before we took it up several rungs. That desire for a cultural reconnection soon gave way to our genius creation of names in which meaning has no place. And our daughters get the best of our creations because in our warped thinking it makes them stand out.

If it sounded musical, has a qui, sha and ta sound, it could be a name. And we don’t bother if they would like the names when they are grown, or if they would be embarrassed by it. It was only in that odd case in ‘08 when that ungrateful 13year old girl whose name has been concocted from Incan hieroglyphics filed a lawsuit against her mum, only there have we seen a dissension. The racist federal judge Ryan Cabrera ruled that black women no longer have naming rights to their children and three white people must agree with the name before a black woman can name her child. Same white people with names like George Bush, Matthew Correspondent and Joelle Rollo-Koster? The judge has no idea how it feels to be black and your only chance at uniqueness is a name. But the ruling has not stopped us from coming up with trendy names for our children.

My friend Uneeqqi Jenkins, who defended the embattled sister in the court case and our name choices has her children’s names as Q’Antity, Uhlleejsha, Cray-Ig, Fellisittee, Tay’Sh’awn and Day’Shawndra. Other friends have children named:

Arquesha

Laquita

Makaya

Sha’ Nay’ Nay

Shampree

Telisha

Chaquandra

Shemeka

Kaneshia

Kanika

Kamika

Call them meaningless contraptions, these sounds are music to our ears. We enjoy their lyrical discordance. We have been termed ghetto, stereotyped, denied jobs just because of our names. Some men are put off by our sweet names. But we are not giving up. The struggle is real, and we have to keep the flag flying.

So we need new names. Just follow the qui-sh­ata rule, and don’t forget to add volume to it. And the more the syllables, the better. Apostrophes allowed too.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Isaiahlove

Emeka Chinagorom is an analyst in Washington DC. Born in Onitsha, he studied philosophy in Rome before moving to the United States. When he is not obsessing over food, he is trying to read and write. His short story, NOW THAT YOU ARE BLACK IN AMERICA, won the 2017 Ian McMillan award. Emeka is working on his first novel and some short stories. You can find him on Instagram @emmyemc.

67 Comments

  1. Nikky

    September 23, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    I won’t lie I use to judge people with names like that and I accept that I was coming from a place of ignorance. Identifying yourself in whatever unique way you want should not be frowned on or judged.

  2. mechojare

    September 23, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    The s**t is real, lol

  3. Anon

    September 23, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    Where is Isio knows better

    • BellaNaija

      September 23, 2014 at 4:23 pm

      She’s travelling this week.
      Sorry!

    • cocokrispies

      September 23, 2014 at 5:55 pm

      ahhnnahhnnn.. She can still write and mail it in nah.. lool.. Isio I have been looking for you since yesterday refreshing bella naija’s home page and searching ‘patiently’.. Biko..send it via mail, u don’t have to submit ‘hard copy’.. Thanks and patiently waiting..xx

    • anna

      September 23, 2014 at 6:55 pm

      thank God you asked oh @Anon I have been refreshing this website all day. Isio that means two posts next time to make up for this one 🙂

  4. Lady doctor

    September 23, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    True story: a black American woman wanted to name her preterm triplet girls Asia, Malaysia and Malaria. Luckily she mentioned it to their doctor who pointed out to her that malaria was a disease.

    • Berry Dakara

      September 23, 2014 at 7:48 pm

      MALARIA? BUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

      Meanwhile, the writer forgot to add Sha-Sha pronounced, Sha-dash-sha

  5. artemis

    September 23, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    I can’t even pronounce some of the names! I keep rolling my tongue

    • Stephanie-feld

      September 23, 2014 at 4:39 pm

      They will probably not be able to pronounce your Nigerian name either without rolling their tongue.

  6. ada1

    September 23, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    lmao. to each his own. please tell them to use Werendia, Oloshia, Mumuna,

    • makeupbyebi

      September 23, 2014 at 4:28 pm

      Hilarious .. rotfl

    • step77

      September 23, 2014 at 5:16 pm

      LOL!!! Now I have to clean my desk, thanks for the burst of laughter. I needed it! LOL

    • nene

      September 24, 2014 at 11:33 am

      lmfao

  7. BC

    September 23, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    Whats was your goal in writing this? You’re mocking African American names? Writing in the voice of an African American woman? How long have you been in the US if I may ask? You sound like a JJC. Anyway I did not find it funny or necessary. If you say their names should have meaning, can you give us examples such names? Should they give their kids European names? Most European (English) names have no meaning , so which ethnic stock names should they dip into? They have done what they know how to do under their circumstances. That they sound foreign to you is irrelevant. Your birth name Chinagorom has history and meaning. Thank your stars and leave them alone. Ask yourself what “historical” names u could have come up with after a few centuries of enslavement. Some Africans, “with all our history” still bear European names.

    • Changing Faces

      September 23, 2014 at 4:55 pm

      I don’t even understand this article. What’s the aim; to inform, educate, explain or mock? This is no satire…

    • Carliforniabawler

      September 23, 2014 at 5:17 pm

      You are very correct. A lot of the African American culture is borne out of them trying to find an expression of their heritage, knowing they are different from the white folks. From the celebration of Kwanza, to jumping the broom, to converting to “Yoruba” , to naming their kids Kenya’tisha and the likes, I personally don’t judge them. In the broad sense of things it is assumed that our forefathers sold their forefathers into slavery, so I don’t think we are in the best position to judge them. Its one of those situations where they are allowed to make jokes about the situation but we’re technically not allowed to (at least not to their faces). And on that note, may this piece not find its way into a major AA blog, dem go tear am into pieces….lol.

    • S!

      September 23, 2014 at 7:53 pm

      To the contrary, most English names have meanings. They originated from all over but are tagged English by Africans just because it isn’t out language.

    • Love

      September 26, 2014 at 2:13 am

      exactly, some of them have Hebrew and Arabic origins so they’re technically not European. In fact most white people are like the African Americans in the article, in their bid to return to their roots (yes Americans are immigrants too). With names like Dawn (Zara), Lisa(Elizabeth) and so on

    • Social media

      September 24, 2014 at 3:11 am

      Relax it’s not that deep. The article is actually coming from the standpoint of an African American educating us on how they perceive their names and ours. to each his own, he never said his article was gospel nor is he mocking, that’s YOUR own overly sensitive perception……I belong to the meaningful name group of people…bite me please….but I like my identity to have a story behind it….and contrary to your thoughts, European names DO have meaning…..do your research and don’t spread wrong info. At the end of the day its a diverse world, we all can’t be the same and it’s OK

  8. CarliforniaBawler

    September 23, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    Lmao! My Starbucks name is Shaynaenae….. You should see the reactions I get……and I keep the straightest face ever too…hehehehe **evilgrin**

    • ATL's finest

      September 23, 2014 at 5:22 pm

      Lol I have heard that before and also Shaynaekwe

    • Bliss

      September 23, 2014 at 8:56 pm

      Haahaahaa I order a cup of coffee almost everyday from Starbucks. I think I need to find me a Starbucks name too. Lmao.

    • MC

      September 24, 2014 at 9:43 am

      My Starbucks name is Jim. and yes, I’m female.
      The look on their faces….classic!

  9. Person

    September 23, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    #FOBbehavior: When a #NewBlack who knows nothing about critical race theory or the effects of racism and slavery on the American diaspora chooses to run his mouth. Wa wa alright.

  10. Ib

    September 23, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    The satire in this piece has me in stitches.

  11. PD Young Billionaire

    September 23, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    Lol @ Malaria…..

  12. Random

    September 23, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    But really, what on earth did we just read? Like where’s the point? Oga Author, you”re gonna have to help us find it.

    • step77

      September 23, 2014 at 5:24 pm

      It’s a satire. He is making a case against the naming conventions that some African Americans seem to happily apply when naming their kids. To some extent I get his point, although on the other hand I can see the arguments from the AA sister’s camp. So long as the kids in question have a system in place to challenge their names if need be, when they come of age, it’s all good until then.

    • TinselTown

      September 24, 2014 at 11:04 am

      As in! so spot on! I kept wondering what the point of the article is!

  13. janedoe

    September 23, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    I thought the ’08 case was just based on a satire by Bill Matthews? Per this link: snopes.com/humor/iftrue/blacknames.asp

  14. Someone

    September 23, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    Really really offensive

  15. ATL's finest

    September 23, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    Lmao @ Malaria! But to be honest, I’m still confused by this article and I don’t get it.. Fine I have heard most of these names but they font have meanings. When you name a child in the presence of God, it’s suppose to be meaning because it goes a long way. No offense to African Americans but what I do know is that most of their kids names is made up of both parents E.g. (Mother Tanisha & Father Cambra) then they take the first part of Cam & last part of Nisha to name their child Caminsha lol. I have seen a lot of it like that.. But hey, whatever flows and rocks everyone’s boat; they are entitled to it & that’s why it’s called freedom of living.

    • ATL's finest

      September 23, 2014 at 5:19 pm

      *don’t*

    • ba

      September 23, 2014 at 9:28 pm

      well, in some parts of west africa people name their children in that manner.

  16. Person

    September 23, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    #FOBBehavior: A first generation African immigrant, mocking the names of African-American women who paid in blood, sweat and tears, for the freedom he enjoys currently. For his right not to be a three-fifths. How stereotypical of the ungrateful African man.

  17. The Kinkster

    September 23, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    No idea what the point of what I just read was to be honest….

    still scratching my head..LOL!

  18. Anon

    September 23, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    The satire is lost on some people. Sad!

    BTW, all English names have meanings. Most of them are named after gods, trees, plants, animals and so on.

  19. Blue Dove

    September 23, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    *Big yawn* 1st world problem.
    Sipping my caramel latte

  20. Jackie Onassis

    September 23, 2014 at 6:30 pm

    I told my handsome boys , graduated from Ivy League Universities.. not to married African American Women.. and I do hope they will listen to me.. I want them to marry real African women… And those who might criticize me.. that is fine.. but, I do have my reasons..

    • corolla

      September 23, 2014 at 6:45 pm

      Afi “not to married” na.

    • aj

      September 27, 2014 at 4:13 am

      lmmmmmmmmmmmmmaaoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo nice one corolla. well said.

    • Idomagirl

      September 23, 2014 at 11:47 pm

      Are you sure these women even want your ‘boys’ to begin with?

    • MC

      September 24, 2014 at 9:46 am

      would love to know your reasons….

  21. kemi

    September 23, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    Thanks for making me laugh! If u can’t find d humor init biko rest……..sometimes we just take stuff a bit too seriously. People make fun of my name too I laugh about it nd make jokes. If e too pain u, abeg find hot plate make u kiss am #Shikena

  22. D

    September 23, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    This got a raised eyebrow from me when I read it( I mean I did not get the point but maybe I am not just smart enough to get it) but for those defending the different names as the heritage of African Americans then I beg to differ . It is not the Slave traders that named themselves the Shanequa and names like that. And this is after speaking to African Americans an African American once told me, and she has one of those names too that her parents named her that because her mum wanted her name to sound French. And I have confirmed this with many African Americans they name their kids that because they are trying to be “tush” and sound french and give “unique” names. Older generation African Americans do not have such names like that they go by Erle, Betty and names like that, you know those old peoples name not Shaniqua, that is a new generation deal. Just like we are seeing names like Blue IV and North West these days. Not that I care as long as the children don’t grow up disliking the names. To each his own just like I proudly go by my yoruba name, I don’t care if anyone has to roll anything to say it and don’t even try butchering it (unless I am too tired), I will correct you till you get it right. I had to learn to pronounce oyinbo names too.

    • S!

      September 23, 2014 at 7:59 pm

      Please it is not “Blue IV” it is BLUE IVY.

  23. Wifey

    September 23, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    This article plays into the negative stereotypes of AA women. I know many AA women who don’t have these types of names. To be honest, the only people I know with these types names are a bit ghetto. So maybe class is at play here, not race.

    One might also poke fun of the back woods white folks whose names tend to be compund names.
    Billy-Bob, Emma Rae, Billy-Jean

    to each his own

  24. tunmi

    September 23, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    I thought this was serious. I did not see the satire until I saw the author’s info at the bottom, but I have heard similar reasons from American blacks.

  25. LOL

    September 23, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    Did Chinagorom train as a priest, then decided to stop being a priest and travel to America? Were you ever training for the priesthood ….just out of curiousity..

  26. NwaMbaise

    September 23, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    So what exactly am I supposed to gain from reading this an article by a man who was born and raised in Nigeria, writing in the voice of an African American woman? Am I supposed to assume that he has the same experience as a woman, talk more of An African American woman? Is this fiction? If so it wasn’t stated? This felt pointless to read. I believe that people’s should not be judged for their names, but I also believe that names have meanings, I don’t care what the name means but it should mean something. Let me know when an African American woman writes about her experience living with the name Bonquisha….and maybe don’t start an article published on an African website, going to be read by predominantly African people, don’t start that article by calling Africans retarded. Bye.

    • truth

      September 24, 2014 at 12:22 pm

      It is called Satire. Google it!
      Byeeee (right back at you)…lol

  27. NNENNE

    September 23, 2014 at 10:58 pm

    When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade out of them, I guess.
    Sometimes, I wish our ancestors and their European accomplices will wake from the dead and see what they did to black Africans.
    The sad part is that lessons are not learned. We are still making policies that will make our children yet unborn to want to burn our graves.

  28. NNENNE

    September 23, 2014 at 11:02 pm

    My African American brothers and sisters simply lost their identity. So, So, sad!

  29. nyinyes

    September 24, 2014 at 3:42 am

    I didn’t. Get her point in @ first, with the names doesn’t rily need to have a meaning. It shld jst be a tush sound? That’s hilarious. We love to have a name with a good meaning my dear, so keep ur tots 2 urself.

  30. Iris

    September 24, 2014 at 3:58 am

    Okay I think I’m a little slow today. I was ready to bite someone’s head off for that “‘this AFRICAN I met” comment but I’m guessing (no hoping) this was meant to be satirical.

  31. Ijebu Boy

    September 24, 2014 at 4:32 am

    i know of a Nigerian dude who married an African American babe. His mom wanted to call their daughter Temitope, wife wanted to call the baby lashawndra. baby’s final name TOPELESHAWN (pronounced: tor-pee-lo-shun). and there are several naija african american hybrid names out there these days.

    • Femme de l'Avenir

      September 24, 2014 at 3:30 pm

      Hehe…Abeg bros, no kill me…Topeleshawn nikan ni.

  32. dorodee

    September 24, 2014 at 4:48 am

    I thought, he’d relate it to how nigerians living in Nigeria are now beginning to name their kids tianshi, aloe vera, devante and co when we have so many meaningful nigerian names. But that’s not my business

  33. BlueEyed

    September 24, 2014 at 5:58 am

    I do not get the satire in piece,however the writer is not in the position to judge or poke fun at AA women who name their children that way, I always wondered what triggered those a names and I always tried to figure and the truth is had to come to terms with the fact that what’s in a name? And why should I place that much importance on the meaning, I guess understanding a bit of AA History played a part in this aspect.

  34. Zedzed

    September 24, 2014 at 9:11 am

    This author always comes across as arrogant and condescending to African Americans, even though this article is meant to be satire, it was a complete fail all I could get from it was that he is totally judgemental and unwilling to keep an open mind.

    • Martin

      September 24, 2014 at 2:58 pm

      Bhahahahahaha. Comments like this (there are so many of them so don’t take it personal that I chose yours to make a general response) are the reason I write down my opinions. They forget the writing and attack the writer. Same arrogant author wrote “I and Our: Two Wings of a Bird,” but he turns arrogant when you’re vexed by his opinion. Good thing is, if everyone who writes takes to heart opinions like yours, nothing will ever be written. And if that is arrogance, well then. Your opinion as a reader about a piece and its author, good or bad, is very well your entitlement.. So is the author’s in whatever he deems fit to write about. Try and have a good day, will you. #GrinGrin

  35. Muna

    September 24, 2014 at 10:10 am

    I remember my bewilderment while watching this young amazing actress trying to teach Ellen how to pronounce her name – Quvenzhané. I’ve since heard a lot of these names and it seems to me like a trend, even with guys’ names . I guess its just part of the unique naming trends all around now. i dont know if it has come to stay but i know that even the local names are getting quite uncommon. my kids have not-so-common English, Yoruba and Igbo names. one Actor here in Nigeria named his twins Nollywood and Hollywood and caused quite a stir!

  36. kesiena

    September 24, 2014 at 10:43 am

    OK? this article was hilarious and I’m kinda confused to see that people are actually pissed by it. what did he say? for Pete’s sake he even laughed at his own name…why we like to dey vex unnecessarily? i bet those people forming anger bear names like evangelica and taofeekat. Then they come here to form

  37. Cti

    September 24, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    Those that raise up the “how long has he been abroad question” are in my opinion very arrogant and lack common sense. Why do you have a need to bring that up everytime this writer puts up an article on BN. . So youve been in the US/ europe for 40 years.. Clap for yourselves, just know
    You’re the arrogant one!

    • aj

      September 27, 2014 at 4:23 am

      hes a jjc, a Fob, and any other word for newbie in America. Sue me!

  38. Chinwe

    September 25, 2014 at 8:58 am

    I did not understand a thing, when it seems as if i am getting a grip i lose it again. ha nah wah for writing oh

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