An Apology to Every (White) Girl Named Becky

The first time I heard “Becky” used as a joke, Sir-Mix-a-Lot was not yet a punchline, but a genius. In case you’ve forgotten, I’ve taken the liberty of copying the famous intro skit from “Baby Got Back,” because who doesn’t love that song?!

“Oh, my, god. Becky, look at her butt.
It is so big. She looks like,
one of those rap guys’ girlfriends.
But, you know, who understands those rap guys?
They only talk to her, because,
she looks like a total prostitute, ‘kay?
I mean, her butt, is just so big.
I can’t believe it’s just so round, it’s like,
out there, I mean…gross. Look!
She’s just so…black!”

First of all, let me say the unstated obvious. There are such things as black names and there are traditionally European names. There are indeed black girls named Rebecca. But anecdata suggests that black families generally do not nickname their daughters Becky. That’s a “white name.” Hence we know, in the parody before “Baby Got Back,” that the silent Becky to which the Valley Girl is speaking is a white woman. Also, I doubt another black woman would’ve said “She’s so…black!” in disgust.

From there, I’d need a etymological historian to parse out exactly when “Becky” became a racial insult. But here we are in 2013, and Becky means a lot more than just a pet name for a sweet girl. Black people commonly use the term “Becky” when referring to generic white women. It has a slight negative connotation (airheadedness), but white women don’t have to do anything to deserve the title.

But I often hear it employed during conversations of interracial relationships involving black men and white women. “Black women don’t do XYZ like white girls do, that’s why we’re wifing Becky.” I’m a bit ashamed to admit that quote from a tweet is mine, in an attempt to characterize fetishism in interracial dating. (I was parroting the sentiment and phrasing I’d heard about this topic). Even if the tone wasn’t my own, I can see how it serves to perpetuate the use of the term.

Reese Witherspoon at the 83rd Academy Awards
Reese Witherspoon played Becky in the 2004 adaptation of Vanity Fair (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Using “Becky” really gets sticky once you venture into rap. Rapper Plies performs a popular song called “Becky.” One guess on who he’s talking about. Plies is singlehandedly responsible for coining the phrase “Give me that Becky,” and turning a name into slang for fellatio. Nothing is formed in a vacuum. His euphemism is built on the false line of thought among black men that white women readily give fellatio.

Clearly, this is as problematic as sexual stereotypes against any demographic of people. Women fight on a daily basis not to be objectified, but this portrayal takes it further and assigns white women a role to which they may not ascribe.

Despite my dislike for using a proper name as a slur, it took an actual person to bring it home to me. After my tweet, a white colleague nicknamed Becky told me about how she’s been forced to use Rebecca instead. A group of black men were catcalling her down a sidewalk and she was doing her best to ignore them.  One of them yelled out, “Hey Becky!” That’s her name: she automatically swung her head around. But this had the opposite effect of validating the men’s impression that she was Becky, not a woman named Becky. They laughed. She laughed, too, because…it is kinda funny.

But I stopped laughing quickly. I had never thought about the implications of people using your name as a stereotype against you. Where can you run to escape that? What if “dara” became a slang for anal sex because of the mistaken idea that all girls named Dara are good for it? I would grow to hate the name lovingly given to me by my parents.

Ultimately, like any broad brush insult, “Becky” is unfair because it objectifies and dehumanizes white women. And no, white women don’t need me to cape for them; they have agency and they’re perfectly capable of defending themselves against catcallers and like idiots. But at the very least, I can point out why it’s an ignorant word and stop propagating its use.

And to my colleague named Becky, and all women who have been called out of their name “Becky,” I’m sorry.

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45 thoughts on “An Apology to Every (White) Girl Named Becky

  1. I have a really good friend named Becky who often listens (and quotes) the rap songs with “Becky” in them. lol I will have to ask her how she feels about it being used as a stereotype. I often hear “Keisha” (sp) being used as a stereotype for ghetto Black girl, too. Just as bad…

    1. She may not mind, in which case, may she listen to Plies et al. to her heart’s content! I hear Keisha sometimes, but more so “Shaniqua” as a placeholder for lower-income black women.

      1. Let me know! We can have another official Becky opinion to add to my friend Becky’s thoughts (she declines to listen to the Plies song. I don’t blame her. lol).

  2. I just came across your posting after searching “white girl give me becky” in Google. I was listening to a song and wanted to find the history and origin. When I was 15 I was called Becky in school. I never understood why. I am 28 now. I agree with you completely. : )

  3. Now questioning if my hubby knows this. And calling into question every time he has said my name while I was…eh-hem…well…but really…I liked my name until I found out this perverted definition. 😦 maybe it’s time to go back to being Rebecca.
    My parents definitely named me Rebecca specifically to call me Becky…Becky Jo…BJ…I’m just screwed in the name department!

    1. I really hate to admit it, but that BJ comment had me cracking up for a good couple of minutes! How…coincidental!

      But on the bright side, maybe now you and your hubby have a bedroom inside joke? No? ahem. lol

    2. Yes my parents called me Becky when I was little and my middle name is Jeanne. Had that pointed out to me in 3rd grade before I even knew what a BJ was. Then I started getting teased the next year or two being called “Becky” as a synonym for stupid. I changed my nickname to Becka. Have been ever since and I hate it when people (even innocently) call me Becky.

  4. I’m named Becky. I only recently learned of the disgusting use of my name for this slang. I’m an author and, thankfully, I have always used Rebecca for my writing, but I’m 42 years old and have been “Becky” all of my life; it’s only recently that this slang came about and it stinks. I refuse to change my name or start having people call me Rebecca. It is only sexist pigs who actually use terms like Becky as a slang, and, in my mind, they don’t count; I don’t particularly care about their opinions anyway, so I will continue to be called Becky by my nearest and dearest.

    And giving a NAME both a racial slur and a sexual slang should be a crime. Unfortunately, even if the Beckys of the world started a class action lawsuit against the band, the damage has already been done.

    1. “It is only sexist pigs who actually use terms like Becky as a slang, and, in my mind, they don’t count;”

      That’s a good way of looking at it. The people who matter to you use your name as a term of endearment. It sucks that others don’t, but we have to live our lives regardless, right?

  5. I seriously get tired of people using my own name to call me out of my name.
    When I first heard the plies song, I laughed. I actually heard it before many did. I have a friend to this day that will tease me about it, but his name can be used in a similar manner, so he gets it right back.
    But it is tiresome when I comment somewhere on social media and someone uses it as a slur because they don’t agree with what I’ve said.

  6. Hello Dara! I found this post after a Facebook friend suggested everyone Google their name plus “is a”. Ahem. I had no idea. I’m white and my name is Rebecca but I’ve gone by Becky my entire life. I’m currently in college and use Rebecca there, and now I know I will probably go by Rebecca in the workplace when I graduate. 😉 I’ve browsed your blog a bit and you are quite a gifted writer. I appreciate your thoughtful post and kind heart. Bless you, friend!

  7. Hahaha I heard plies song Becky when it first came out. I’m a white girl yes. It really doesn’t bother me. I don’t like the name Rebecca I feel it makes me sound old and stern. Have went by Becky my whole life. I have no intention in the work force or personal to change it to Rebecca.

  8. Wow, Dara, I had no idea “Becky” was a pejorative nowadays. Great points noted. And then there’s the delightfully oddball Frank Zappa, who had a send-up (flame-throw is more like it) of Valley Girls! I don’t agree with sexual or racial or disabled versus abled (and many others) put-downs in any form, and I don’t support music or media that do, regardless of the artist’s own sex or race. Talented artists — sadly, just like members in the rest of the human population — can be racists or misogynists, abusers, xenophobes, and/or just plain jerks.

  9. My actual legal first name is Becky. In high school during spirit week (tacky day) , a guy wore a sign that says, ” I want Becky”. That’s the day I found out the new slang for Becky.… 😦

  10. I find this connotation of my name completely offensive. I don’t care your skin color, I love all, but I don’t think my mother who chose this name out of love and respect would appreciate it. Just something to think about. And I have come into situations where people are questioning me .. No way and they hi -5. Not cool.

  11. My name is Becky. Quite frankly, I’ve heard so many stupid terms made up that I completely discredit the terms for their lack of creativity or originality. It’s hard to take the insults seriously. I enjoy when someone comes up with something funny, but calling someone Becky because she’s a white girl is just so.. bland.

    1. Agreed … why be so basic as to use someone’s proper name as a label for society?!? Shame on you, Beyonce!!! We are supposed to lift each other, not tear each other down!!!

  12. Wow! How do we feel now? Never cared much, but Beyonce is on my ____list now. I’m oddly and surprisingly offended!! It’s making me nuts. I think Beyonce is coming off as passive aggressive racist. She is also representing women so poorly by putting so much emphasize on the females and not the CHEATING SPOUSE! Not impressed with Beyonce any more.

    1. That’s funny to me. You’re offended that Bey used it, but didn’t care much before about it? Hilarious!

      Perhaps you should really listen to the whole of Beyonce’s project. You’re focusing on a very minute aspect of it. And I am not a huge Beyonce fan. I recognize she’s saying so much more than you’re comprehending.

  13. As a Becky I have known that my name is common among white women but I never thought that my name was used to describe oral sex or ‘basic’. I haven’t listened to the song but it sounds to me like Beyonce’s pinning the shame on the girl more then her man and to top it off I thought she was a feminist. It’s disappointing that girls are vilifying each other rather than calling out their cheating bf’s. Obviously there is more to the song than that but I feel that the slur is derogatory and degrading. Just because I’m white doesn’t mean that i’ve had an easy ‘basic’ life. Anyone that asks me for a ‘Becky’ will get educated in how not to be a racist demeaning A***hole.

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