Why is it ok to laugh at Quvenzhané Wallis's name?

So often, the names people "cannot" learn to pronounce belong to little black girls and little black boys.

Everyone calls me Bim. Everyone. For most of my life that’s what I’ve gone by. Bim. B-I-M. Three letters, one syllable. Bim. When I was concerned by these things, I would lament its cuteness – “that’s not a sexy name,” I would think. I would put on Billy Crystal’s voice and paraphrase his line from When Harry Met Sally: “Do it to me Bim, you’re an animal, Bim… Doesn’t work.” Bim is cute. Bim is fun. When considered in a certain light, it sounds almost French – gamine, fluffy. But not, I was convinced, sexy.

Like I said, I was younger and more foolish then. I had a lot of time to be sitting and considering the tone of voice my name should be delivered in.

Bim is not my full first name. That is Adebimpe. Four syllables. Ah-day-bim-pay. Is it unusual? In the UK, sure. Is it difficult? Nah, it’s not. Not really. Like a lot of West African names, it’s pretty much a "say what you see" system. But no-one calls me Adebimpe anyway.

My name is Yoruba, it is Nigerian. It means something, something that roughly comes to "born complete" in English. My unusual name may be mocked (it has been), but it is generally given a "pass" because it is African, because it "means something".

The names that aren’t given passes, the ones that we are allowed to openly disparage, they look a certain way. They may have African languages at their root. They may, like certain movies, be “inspired by the true story of…” Africa, or some other continent. They may be laced with an extra accent, or a hard "s" where a soft "ch" is more usual. They are names that have the sounds "qua" and "nae". They almost always belong to little black girls and little black boys.

I am thinking of my name because of one specific little brown girl in America, who also has an unusual name. I am thinking about Quvenzhané Wallis, the youngest person to be nominated for an Academy Award. I am thinking about the people who "cannot" pronounce the four simple syllables in her name. I am thinking about the YouTube videos that tell you how to pronounce her name. I am thinking about the people who eventually "learn" to say "Siobhan" and "Caoimhe" and "Aoife" but become tongue-tied and struggle with "Tyeisha" and "Myosha" and "Nyachomba". I am thinking of the woman who met me and asked if she could abbreviate my already shortened name and call me "B". I am thinking about my name, and I am thinking about Quvenzhané’s.

I am thinking of the words of Kenyan-born Somali poet Warsan Shire:

“Give your daughters difficult names.
Give your daughters names that command the full use of tongue.
My name makes you want to tell me the truth.
My name doesn’t allow me to trust anyone that cannot pronounce it right.”

Incidentially, fuck you, The Onion.

This post originally appeared on Bim's blog, yorubagirldancing.com, and is crossposted here with her permission

Quvenzhané Wallis arriving at the Oscars, where she was nominated for Best Actress. Photograph: Getty Images

Bim Adewunmi writes about race, feminism and popular culture. Her blog is  yorubagirldancing.com and you can find her on Twitter as @bimadew.

Photo: Getty Images
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What do Labour's lost voters make of the Labour leadership candidates?

What does Newsnight's focus group make of the Labour leadership candidates?

Tonight on Newsnight, an IpsosMori focus group of former Labour voters talks about the four Labour leadership candidates. What did they make of the four candidates?

On Andy Burnham:

“He’s the old guard, with Yvette Cooper”

“It’s the same message they were trying to portray right up to the election”​

“I thought that he acknowledged the fact that they didn’t say sorry during the time of the election, and how can you expect people to vote for you when you’re not actually acknowledging that you were part of the problem”​

“Strongish leader, and at least he’s acknowledging and saying let’s move on from here as opposed to wishy washy”

“I was surprised how long he’d been in politics if he was talking about Tony Blair years – he doesn’t look old enough”

On Jeremy Corbyn:

"“He’s the older guy with the grey hair who’s got all the policies straight out of the sixties and is a bit of a hippy as well is what he comes across as” 

“I agree with most of what he said, I must admit, but I don’t think as a country we can afford his principles”

“He was just going to be the opposite of Conservatives, but there might be policies on the Conservative side that, y’know, might be good policies”

“I’ve heard in the paper he’s the favourite to win the Labour leadership. Well, if that was him, then I won’t be voting for Labour, put it that way”

“I think he’s a very good politician but he’s unelectable as a Prime Minister”

On Yvette Cooper

“She sounds quite positive doesn’t she – for families and their everyday issues”

“Bedroom tax, working tax credits, mainly mum things as well”

“We had Margaret Thatcher obviously years ago, and then I’ve always thought about it being a man, I wanted a man, thinking they were stronger…  she was very strong and decisive as well”

“She was very clear – more so than the other guy [Burnham]”

“I think she’s trying to play down her economics background to sort of distance herself from her husband… I think she’s dumbing herself down”

On Liz Kendall

“None of it came from the heart”

“She just sounds like someone’s told her to say something, it’s not coming from the heart, she needs passion”

“Rather than saying what she’s going to do, she’s attacking”

“She reminded me of a headteacher when she was standing there, and she was quite boring. She just didn’t seem to have any sort of personality, and you can’t imagine her being a leader of a party”

“With Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham there’s a lot of rhetoric but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of direction behind what they’re saying. There seems to be a lot of words but no action.”

And, finally, a piece of advice for all four candidates, should they win the leadership election:

“Get down on your hands and knees and start praying”

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.