CHICK CHAT: My Name May Be “Ghetto,” But I’m Not!

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In October 1984, my 16-year-old mother, Charmaine realized she was pregnant. A lot of decisions as a mom would have to be made on my behalf, and the first would be my name. She thought about Taylor for a bit, but that lost momentum. She dug the name Adrien because a woman named Adrien Arpel made a facial cream she loved, so she decided to go with that. On June 17th, three weeks past my original due date, doctors induced Charmaine. Eight or nine hours later, I was born.

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Moments before the birth certificate and pen were in her hand, a family friend came to see Charmaine and I, and made a suggestion that drastically changed my life,“Why don’t you name her Shenequa?”

“Okay!” Charmaine said. That was that. Charmaine, probably high as all get out from the epidural, decided to name her eight-pound baby girl, Shenequa Adrien Golding.

Growing up, I didn’t know my name was ghetto because I went to diverse schools. I shared pencils with some “Tyquans,” hung out with a few “Josies,” and even shared some laughs with some “Pablos.”

It was when I got to college I realized that being a “Shenequa” meant I was a stereotype. While waiting tables at an Italian restaurant, a middle-aged white couple was seated in my section. I worked a double shift that day and was exhausted. “Hi. My name is Shenequa, and I’ll be your server tonight,” I said.

After taking their orders, the gentleman mentioned how tired he was, “I’m beat. I’ve been working all day,” I responded as I cleared the table of the menus and extra flatware.

“I see Shan-eee-qua,” he said as he pronounced my name as if he was hooked on phonics. “So, how many kids do you have?”

Excuse me!? How many kids do I have? I was so offended, I couldn’t gather my thoughts fast enough. The question just rolled off his tongue, like he asked for extra ketchup or something. Of course a young, black girl working in a restaurant all day has kids she has to support. That has to be the only reason in his mind.

“No, sir” I said with the little composure I had left. “I’m a college student. I’m working to buy books.”

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He realized his question was offense, gave me a nervous grin and made eye contact with his wife in hopes that not looking at me would make me vanish quicker. I chalked the encounter up to pure white ignorance, and took solace in believing I wouldn’t have to deal with such injustices from my own kind.

Unfortunately and ironically, that was the first and last time a white person made a comment about my name. Black people from all socioeconomic and educational backgrounds continue to remind me of the blunder Charmaine made 27 years ago.

About three years back, I met this cutie in the mall. We started talking and just before Thanksgiving, he invited me over to meet his parents. When I walked in, comments such as “You don’t look like a Shenequa.” or “You’re too pretty to be named Shenequa” were all I kept hearing.

I swallowed my anger and laughed it off. But I was pissed! What exactly does a Shenequa look like? I bet they were thinking I was a bubble gum poppin’, neck rollin’, weave pattin’ ghetto girl, but I’m not.

Men have approached me on the street and believed I was lying when I told them my name. “C’mon shorty. Shenequa? Look, if you not interested, cool. But don’t lie to me. You NOT no Shenequa!” They’d exclaim.

I’m not naive to the fact certain names ring certain bells. However, I’m more upset that it’s African-Americans who keep these stereotypes alive. Just because her name is “Keisha” doesn’t mean she trying to get her G.E.D, and just because you meet an “Elizabeth,” doesn’t mean she’s educated, wears pearls and is prim and proper.

Okay, Shenequa. Where did this come from?

I read an article that listed 10 reasons why black men love white women. The eighth or ninth reason was “It’s easier to introduce an Amber to your friends and family than a Shaniqua.”

I could care less about black men and their love for white women. I’m over that battle. It was the “Shaniqua” reference that prompted this post.

My name is Shenequa. I’m black and I’m from Queens, N.Y. My mother had me when she was 16 years old and my dad wasn’t really around. So, yes. I fit the urban, fatherless stereotype.

But peep this: I’m smart. I’m funny. I’m clever. I’m not anyone’s baby mother or “wifey.” I have a college degree. I know which fork to use at a table setting. I can properly pronounce “salmon” as opposed to the commonly mispronounced word “SAL-mon.” (Who started that trend?) I know who the president of Afghanistan is. I’m chasing my dreams and I’m just the bees-knees.

So to my “Tanikas,” “Keishas” and “Moeshas” who continue to prove this ghetto name stereotype wrong, I’m proud of you. And to those who take issue with our names, please take your concerns up with my two well-manicured middle fingers.

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