It’s Time to Stop Mispronouncing the Names of Black Women

By Tekita Bankhead

I cannot count how many times in my life that people have said my name wrong. It’s almost like a Black girl’s rite of passage. In my mind, it’s six letters that are arranged in a logical manner. Phonetically, it’s straightforward to me (and obviously, my mama, too). I have become so accustomed to people continuously saying my name incorrectly that I instinctively start to spell my name to dodge the befuddled faces that come as soon as it crosses my lips.

“My name is Tekita. T–E… K–I… T–A.”

Yet, I still get Takita, Tequita, Tequila (It’s five o’clock somewhere, eh?), Shekita, Shequila, Tenika, Shene’ne’–the list honestly never ends. Trust me, it gets really complicated when you throw in a deep Southern accent. Bless it.

What do you think that really says to Black women when you are committed to misidentifying us? I’ll tell you what.

You’re not listening to Black women. Contrary to popular misguided perceptions, I do not know a Black woman alive who likes to repeat herself. Not your mama. Not your wife. Not your bae. Nobody. So, it’s really annoying when we have to constantly review basics with your simple behind. If you can’t grasp this, we are going to have some major trouble moving forward.

You’re not taking us seriously. The world has shown me that if I wanted to be acknowledged, I should be grateful that my name was even called, regardless of if it was actually my name. Taking care to appropriately recognize someone shows a level of worth and honor that we assign to a person’s being. If you don’t take the simple steps to show the worth of my existence, you will show no investment in my evolution.

You don’t give Black women the benefit of assumed credibility. Society has conditioned some people to believe Black women are inherently wrong, and many are not open to learning from us. This shows up in more ways than we realize — especially in the workplace. Have you ever seen a Black woman constantly addressed as “Ms.,” “Mrs.,” or casually by her first name when her appropriate title is “Dr.?” That microaggression of repeatedly “forgetting” to call Black women by their hard-earned credentials is a signal that our education is far-fetched to you. Newsflash: Regardless of the field, the most impactful and pivotal strides made are often those of Black women. If you are blessed to have one of us on your team, the very least you can do is get our name right.

Your temporary comfort is more important than our permanent identity. Black women have been told for the majority of our lives that our names are just too much. Too ghetto. Too complicated. Thankfully, we are re-entering an era of unapologetic Blackness with young actors named Quvezhane. Political mavens named Kamala. Mayors named Keisha. Multitalented entertainers named Uzo. Black women are embracing the uniqueness of our names because we have realized that we are set apart from others. Acknowledging that takes work on your part. Failing to do that work has sent a message to me and other Black women over the years: the accuracy of our name is not worth stepping out of your Eurocentric bubble. Well, it’s time you burst your own bubble so that we can take one off of our list. Check yourself so that we don’t have to. While we’re on the subject of doing the work to honor our names, I think my next point just about sums it all up.

You’re flat out lazy. The absolute worst is when little lazy-cakes (yes, I create my own words from time to time) arbitrarily assign an “easier” nickname for our sisters across the African diaspora. For example, I believe African names are among some of the most beautiful and meaningful in the world. However, I have seen one too many people attempt to demean that beauty because of their stubborn tongues. If it is not your name, you don’t have the authority to alter it. No, Susan, you can’t call me ‘T’ for short. Yes, Bob, I will correct you every single time you spell my name wrong in your e-mails. Hopefully, you’ll reach my level of annoyance and put some extra effort on the front end to get it right the first time around.

So if you’re saying to yourself, “Is this really that big of a deal?” the answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’. Apologize for your lack of effort. Correct yourself without us having to. Every time. Do better. Be better. Black women deserve every syllable connected to our legacy.

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