What’s in a name? For a 19-year-old Kansas City woman, the answer to that question is "everything."
Keisha Austin said her name made her the butt of jokes, many of them with racial overtones. Because of that name, she said she had to process off-color comments from classmates and even teachers.
Austin says that's why she changed her name to Kylie a week ago at a Johnson County, Kansas, courthouse.
“It’s not something I take lightly,” Kylie told the Kansas City Star, sobbing as the words came out.
Her mother conceded to the name change as an early Christmas present, paying the nearly $200 it cost to complete the legal process, but she said the process was painful.
“It felt like a gift I gave to her, and she was returning it,” Cristy Austin told the Star. “Keisha was the only name I ever thought of, and when I talked to her in my belly, I talked to Keisha. But she’s still the same person, regardless of her name.”
But that’s not how Kylie Austin felt -- back when she was Keisha -- in the hallways of Shawnee Mission North High, the school she graduated from in 2012. She says people would make jokes -- barely veiled references to black culture and stereotypes -- about her name.
“It’s like they assumed that I must be a certain kind of girl,” she told the Star. “Like, my name is Keisha so they think they know something about me, and it always felt negative.”
Psychotherapist and HLN contributor Tiffanie Davis Henry knows the feeling well.
“Growing up with the name Tiffanie LaCourtney Davis -- I mean really?” she said. “As an adult, I am always responsible to negate the assumption of a ‘y’ at the end of my name. And as a kid, I always squirmed at the annunciation of the ‘La’ at the beginning of my middle name. I admit that there were times that I didn't really appreciate it.”
But Henry said she had to get over any bias -- perceived or real -- that came with what many would call an “ethnic” name. For kids, though, she says it’s more difficult.
“Youngsters don't often have the insight that things get better or the strength to push past the opposition to prove that they are more than just a name,” Henry said. “With names being synonymous with video vixens, drugs or baby mamas, it takes a fairly strong sense of self to pummel past the quips, sexual innuendos and nastiness that some of us face."
"Ethnic" name controversies are nothing new, even for Hollywood. As many celebrities over the years have changed their names to assimilate better in the entertainment world. But there's a difference when it is forced upon the person.
A firestorm of criticized erupted at the 2012 Oscars when then 9-year-old Academy Award nominee Quvenzhané Wallis was repeatedly referred to as " Little Q" by a host of celebrities, including Ryan Seacrest. Quvenzhané herself even shut down a red carpet reporterwho was intent on calling her "Annie," telling the journalist, "I am not Annie."
Name controversies aside, Henry says it's important that outsiders don't get to dictate who the person really is. "Bottom line: Our name is what we're called. It is not who we are. We define who we are.”
What do you think? If you felt it was hindering you, would you change your name?