He looks at me and asks, “okay, but couldn’t they just have named Quvenzhané Wallis literally anything else?” and my heart beats hard and my hands make fists because
my first name doesn’t come on friendship bracelets, doesn’t come on mugs, doesn’t come on cutesy souvenirs. R-A-Q-U-E-L. My first name is first-day-of-school-flinch, my first name is supposed to be like rainwater and instead sounds muffled in the mouths of people who are scared of it. My first name has been turned into rachel, ra-qwell, rochelle, rocky, kelly, michelle. My first name is walking you through six whole letters like i’m your preschool teacher.
And my last name? My last name is uh-let-me-spell-that-for-you, it is “i’m gonna marry a smith or a winter or somebody with a nice short last name,” it’s “would hate to see that on the back of a jersey it wouldn’t even fit across your shoulders,” it’s a telemarketer’s worst nightmare, it’s a hulking burden for a little girl who bites her lip every time she has to give it over in public, it’s a computer disaster waiting to happen because it’s not formatted in the way the software is, it’s caught in throat, mumble-me, it’s terrifying. “It’s Spanish,” I say quietly, “It’s actually just phonetic if you read it properly.”
my whole name is “sorry.” My whole name is five parts. My whole name is heritage, heartbreak, is too heavy. My name is “Sorry, let me just write it down for you,” it’s “sorry” and endless quiet corrections to the point that I don’t even bother with most of them, it’s “sorry,” a smile flashed. An “I understand your struggle and I’m sorry for the inconvenience of my identity” grin. I was named after a woman who wrote poems from the inside of a political prison, and I still apologize for it.
But fuck you if you think I’m gonna let you make another girl sorry for who she is. Fuck you for pretending like the fault you have is that she wasn’t named susan. Fuck you for expecting us all to crop our names down and just be “normal” like everyone else. Your name isn’t normal to me but I still figured out how to wrap my tongue around every “Eric” and “Skylar” and “Lisa” and “Sally Lou” because I am expected to respect the fuck out of you.
So no. She shouldn’t have been named anything else. It’s not even that fucking hard to pronounce. Watch a video if you’re not sure about it. Every letter is a part of her identity. Your problem isn’t that it’s confusing, it’s that she’s so unapologetically her own being and she doesn’t need your approval for anything.
I will not stand here while another little girl grows up feeling bad about who she is. I will not let you turn her into a demon because “it’s just too hard!” when you’re really just too lazy. I don’t want her to shrink like I do. I want her to stand with her spine straight and a smile on her face. I want them to know her. I want it to be a household name like Tchaikovsky, Voltaire, Dostoevsky.
No more morning talk show hosts making smart-ass comments. No more butchering her name at a professional award show. No more interview questions about basic background knowledge. I want journalists roasted over the coals for not doing their homework. I want her name not to be a flinch but to be a badge of honor. No more “can I just call you a nickname” bullshit, no more “make it easier on me.” No more apologizing. My patience with this shit is at exactly zero.
Because this girl is gonna change the world. You better at least learn the identity of your friendly neighborhood superhero.
— LEARN IT. // r.i.d