Stop Fishing for Self-Hatred in the Name “Sharkeisha”

The original beat down queen, Sheneneh.

About two weeks ago, I heard about an epic beat down of a fight between a girl named Sharkeisha and another one named Shamichael. One day, I will explain thoroughly why I cannot abide World Star Hip-Hop; but suffice it to say that since I refuse to frequent that site, I haven’t seen the Sharkeisha video.

I know nothing of fights. I have never been in one and I see no reason to start now. So this post isn’t about the merits of not getting stole on. I’m not going on in the alleged stupid reason (a boy) why one girl set another up. This isn’t even really about Sharkeisha, the girl–this is about Sharkeisha’s name.

In the many places as I have read about the fight, someone invariably comments: With a name like Sharkeishathis was inevitable for her. 

Record ssssscratch. What?! Where do I begin?

If black people lost every reason in the world to hate themselves, they would still find one more obscure thing and pick it to death. Make no mistake, Sharkeisha is a black name. It is not unpronounceable, nor is it awkwardly spelled. But black people all over the Internet have been making Shark jokes, obtusely insinuating that the etymology derives from the fish and not the construction of Shar + keisha. Hardee-har; it’s more clever than biting.

I have a black name, plucked from its native Yoruban context and given to me in the heat of Houston, Texas. People stumble and trip over the two syllables in “dara” as if they have never heard of “Lara Croft, Tomb Raider.” And yet, because it does not follow the conventions of many other black girl names, my name garners considerably less shade.

Black mothers name their children by the caress of beloved syllables, creating names native to their tongues. They (we) employ both reason and rhyme. If you are unaware of the conventions, here are some.

Prefix: Sha, La, Ta, Ka, Ma, Na, Da, Shon;
Suffix: Keisha, Nisha, Nessa, Rella, Shawn, Nille, Rice.

Sha’Condria Sibley nails it in her ode to big black girl names. 

Are these names originally European? No. But they are American, as native to this country as blues and jazz. So, why, then do we prize Michelle (French) and Zoe (Greek), over LaShawn? Because we say that LaShawn is ghetto (and we hate the poor). Any inference we attribute to a name tells more about our own biases than about the actual person bearing the name.

So when I hear that Sharkeisha’s name is ghetto, that her mother should’ve known better than to name her daughter that, that Sharkeisha will never get a job with that name, that the only thing Sharkeisha could’ve done after being named such is wind up on World Star…I see red. Or rather, black. I see black people once again attempting to distance themselves from the “worst” of us out of embarrassment. We like to pretend that our names are the barriers of entry from “good jobs,” but in truth, the socioeconomic status into which we are born has more bearing on our upward mobility.

Sharkeisha’s name did not predict that fight for her. Sharkeisha’s educational environment, parentage, and socioeconomic status did. Her name, like mine, is something that she will have to choose to live up to. It grieves me that the world expects her to live down to her name when they don’t even know the meaning of it. Pick a meaning of Keisha/ Kezia from the Internet: of the cassia tree, favorite, beautiful. Even if Sharkeisha meant nothing at all–because, let’s face it, many people choose names based on sounds they like–it would still be a valid name.

I fail to understand why black people must constantly defend things that are uniquely ours, as if even our very names lack the right to exist.

To put it baldly, assimilation into the mainstream culture of naming in America will not advance us farther than actually fixing the racist thought that makes assimilation a matter of survival. “Tyrone” receives the same ghetto label as “Tarik,” despite its Irish origin. We make names black by using them, and we cannot win a war waged against blackness by pretending our names will save us.

I will cede the argument that some black names are wildly imaginative. But if America can learn how to say Schwarzenegger, Schwarzkopf, and Hoomanawanui correctly because money dictates that we must, then surely, we can stop pretending that D’Brickashaw is a Martian name.

Upbraid Sharkeisha because she’s a confused, combative child who needs much guidance to overcome her brush with infamy. But fishing in her name for tenets to support our own self-hatred makes us the real sharks, not her.

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20 thoughts on “Stop Fishing for Self-Hatred in the Name “Sharkeisha”

  1. Very well said. I too have troubles with the name issue, and half the time people don’t even bother to read it fully before they try to pronounce it. I’ve stopped correcting them at this point.

  2. so well said. been fighting against this “respectable Negro” name thing for so long, I think I’m going to go hoarse. people saying, “it’s just a made up name…” as opposed to what? there some names out there in the great wide world that fell outta the sky like manna from heaven? Becky, Megan and Susan were etched somewhere by the hands of Elder Gods on stone? such nonsense, especially when many of these names came out of the post-1960s and often followed African-American cultural syllabic norms (those bits of Africanisms that ended up making blues, jazz, etc. unique), sometimes to refashion African/Muslim names out of the Black Arts Movement OR completely new names to honor parents/grandparents or whatever other reason any human being has ever had for naming *anyone.* but… this is what marginalized victims do, attempt to devalue their own creative process in efforts at assimilation and normalization… till we start getting the first white Sharkeisha to make it “legitimate.”

    1. Yes! The logic behind deeming names ghetto fries me crispy. Clearly, I have so much skin in this game. I grew up hating my name, and I’m just thankful I learned how to love. Now I’m just militant about it. lol.

      I may not construct the black names of my children. But I also refuse to answer to anyone who believes that a name with a French or English origin is worth more than one with an African origin. All things being equal.

  3. this by the way gets at the very HEART of the matter- our very association with the name in our *own* eyes, taints it and turns it black and hence “ghetto.” can’t win!

    [To put it baldly, assimilation into the mainstream culture of naming in America will not advance us farther than actually fixing the racist thought that makes assimilation a matter of survival. “Tyrone” receives the same ghetto label as “Tarik,” despite its Irish origin. We make names black by using them, and we cannot win a war waged against blackness by pretending our names will save us.]

  4. Colored folks respect my ‘safe’ name and it’s still mocked, deliberately misspelled and mispronounced by goodly southern whites who must point out that my mother obviously made a mistake omitting a suffix or not including enough letters. Sharkeisha or Emily, pants up or down, natural or relaxed, light skinned or dark, there is no winning if you are black.

    Side note: The Disgruntled Haradrim noted Tyrone’s origin. Two of my favorite Irish names are Caoimbhe and Siobhan, pronounced Kiva and Shavonne (my favorite Black girl name) respectively.

    1. Exactly–even if your name is just two syllables, it ain’t right, and people will find some way to bend it to their linguistic wishes.

      I remember recently learning that Shavonne is a name of Irish origin. Crazy how just our adopting a name can make it ‘black’ and worth ridicule. No-win.

    1. Yoda, Mr. Weathers’ name is obviously Dutch in origin. lol 🙂

      We don’t have to like any name, Sharkeisah, Michael, Vladimir, or otherwise; but I agree it’s problematic to use name as a placeholder for dysfunction.

  5. The African in America has been a victim of a naming crisis. Many of our names are not African because of slavery the bulk of our names are European. The nation of Islam replaced their European slave names with x since they had no recollection of what their names were. The name purpose is supposed to tell what a person is called amongst other people and its supposed to tell the culture of that person. French names, German names, etc. The children of African slaves do not have names that culturally identify them. I feel the “black” names are our attempts of identifying with our culture, but racism teaches us that these names are inferior. We are taught that in order to be successful we can not have an African name. We must be proud of the Anglo Saxon name that we call ourselves and if we have an acceptable named and we see another AFrican with a “ghetto” name then we ridicule them and continue to make them apart of the dregs of society.

  6. Great post! I’ve never heard the argument put quite like this. However, I have to respectfully disagree to a certain extent. Although it’s a person’s right to name someone whatever and I agree that a name doesn’t dictate your future, I do think it can affect a child. Black people have it hard enough in society without and although it’s not right to judge someone by their name, it does happen. A child named Sharkeisha may not get the consideration for a job that someone named Michelle may receive. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m just saying it’s a harsh reality in some cases. The uniqueness of a name is something generally appreciated by the family. It’s not something generally appreciated by the public. The child’s mentality will determine how they react when they’re criticized in public. Although society is the problem in this situation, we subject our kids to that ignorance when we name them something so unique. Again, I enjoy your post and can appreciate your argument. However, I do think that you have to take the good with the bad (ignorance) when naming a child “Sharkeisha.”

    1. Q, I definitely go back and forth between this perspective and my own. In many cases, I am a realist. I understand that “Certain Names” will single you out. But then I just get angry about the WHY as opposed to thinking “that’s just the way the world is.”

      I suppose that’s why I write…to challenge conventions and why we think the way we do about certain aspects of our culture. If no one ever stands up and says, Nah, I’m not going to cater to this viewpoint, we would be stuck in the status quo, just wishing.

      And I thank you for contributing your viewpoint; it is an absolutely valid one and certainly something to be aware of when discussing naming our children. 🙂

  7. Great post!

    I do agree that this is an issue that black people face world over. In South Africa where I currently live, black people still face similar concerns, whether to have a “white” name that will help them to advance professionally because our traditional name is “oh so difficult to pronounce” and to preempt questions like ” What do I call you in short?” or “Do you have an easier name?”. This same black person would then have an official white name to advance and a black one to fit in with fellow blacks. Back home in Kenya, black names often implied that one was not Christian, because it’s impossible to be Christian and baptised and not have a mainstream white name. Saddens me that so much later, we are all still at this point, making value judgements based on names and other shallow things.

    1. This comment was amazing…since I’m very American, I forget the ways in which struggles across the Diaspora can mirror each other. Thank you for providing a different perspective. Those questions you mentioned that people ask you are so underhandedly racist…it’s saddening. This is why I am very much an advocate of black people naming their children what they will. Because if we all end up being “Mary” or “John” or “Michelle,” it will make our ethnic names all the more rarefied and subject to discrimination.

  8. These types of names have an African tone to them when spoken almost tribal to a degree. Even if they are made up names they are names that were given to you to ensure that you would identify with your blackness. We know our parents to be named after those who were given common slave names our forefathers. The name game is probably the last thing left that they can try and use against us and make as though we don’t deserve to be named anything other than what the status quo would permit to be correct. Therefore, we were identifying with a name that was a bloodline of a slave master. Our parents parents were not Sally, John, and Big Bob….those were names that were given to them. All we ever wanted is to be black and together. Even for those blacks with common names they still have to live with those who will change them without permission. I know a black lady named Margaret well on her job they decided that they didn’t like Margaret so they changed her name to Margie (really people). So it really doesn’t matter about your name. The struggle to just be “black” is tremendous. We have had to go through so many changes. Our freedom holders still can’t decide on what they want to call us…we were negro..colored ….black…African American. We have been ask to change our hair from kinky to straight so that we loose the ability to wear our hair they way it was originated from birth. So we don’t even indentify with the fact that kinky hair is who we are…unless your bloodline was divided. We’ve been accused of having lips that are to large, hips that are to wide, skin that is to dark but people are spending millions to achieve the fuller lips, hips, and tanned skin. We have been accused of being dumb but education was being kept from (denied) us. However, we were smart enough to learn anyway and overcome (so how dumb is that not at all). The plot to divide and conquer was a pretty clever plan I must admit. That is why we have blacks that would deny themselves because of a name that is given that is not a common name that fits the status quo. Take your “ghetto” given name and wear it as a badge of honor. As we are all individuals and unique and should have our own unique name. As our forefathers did not have such freedoms. It seems that blacks will never be free just be “black folk” they always have to be what the status quo says they should be. I love my Quane, Latisha, Yamekia’s and nem…

    1. YESS! All of this! I am almost unapologetically pro-black name, simply for the right of self-determination, the right to be respected because we are humans/people, regardless of whether our names sound too black to be “respectable.”

    1. Stay determined and be proud of your name and walk boldly in it. You are a gift to the nation and your name is the wrapping around the gift…..the blessing of who you are is within. Love ya my sistah great post….keep up the good work.

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