“My name is Shaniqua,” said a blogger I met at a luncheon in mid-town Manhattan.
Shaniqua? I did a double take. She gave me her card. As soon as I got home, I was all over my computer, genuinely curious to see what a website I presumed to be “ghetto” looked like. Hmm…it was nice…and there was even a picture of her and Oprah Winfrey. Wow, she’s doing pretty well.
A few weeks later, I’m on the phone with my old roommate from college. We hadn’t spoken for a few months so it was time to catch up. She told me she was launching a dessert business and I was thrilled. But there was an underlying anxiety in her voice.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I’m stuck. I don’t know whether to use my name or my initials for my business,” she responded.
“I’d go for your name all day,” I answered. “People with initials seem shady. Did we ever know O.J. and who is T.I., really? I trust his wifey Tiny a helluva lot more.”
“Yea, but my name is Shi-kwan-da.”
“Okay, I get it,” I say, suddenly remembering Shaniqua, and how quick I was to throw her on the ghetto train… only to find out that she’s doing better than me…
“Wait, I think I have an answer!”
“I met a blogger named Shaniqua recently who is not only embracing her name, but using it as an advertising tool because when you hear the name, especially in a certain setting, you do a double take. Next thing you know you’re all over her website, and now she’s got you. Advertisers pay big bucks for that. Girl, you’d be crazy not to use your name!”
“Wow, I never thought about it like that,” says Shikwanda.
And it’s not hard to see why. There’s no denying that these distinctly Black names get a bad rap. Just last year Raven-Symone publicly apologized for saying that she wouldn’t hire someone with a “ghetto name” on “The View” and who can forget the famous study that found when applying for jobs, names that sound white receive 50 percent more callbacks than names that sound distinctly African American. But at the same time, a Black man with a Muslim name became President of the United States. Twice. If 69 million Americans get over any hangups they might’ve had regarding the name Barack Obama, surely Shaniqua and Shikwanda can carve out a space for themselves in their respective industries.
It’s catch up time with Shikwanda. I find her in the middle of making vanilla cupcakes with cream cheese frosting for a birthday event. I guess she’s in business, which reminds me that I never found out what name she decided to use.
“I went with Shikwanda,” she tells me excitedly, and I’m ecstatic.
“After we talked, I realized a few things. Shikwanda is who I am, take it or leave it, I needed to stop focusing so much energy on my name, and put it into my business, and most importantly, your name doesn’t make you, you make your name.”
Amen to that.
This article first appeared on Madamenoire.com