Edited by Azizi Powell
This is Part I of a two part series on the name "Keisha", its probable source and its contemporary African American variants.
Part I provides information and comments about the name "Keziah", the name that I believe is the source of the name Keisha and its contemporary (post 1965) variants. Part I also provides another theory about the source of the name "Keisha" as well as brief information and birthdates of some African American celebrities and celebrities from other races who are named "Keisha" or similar names.
Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2015/06/the-racialization-of-female-name-keisha.html for Part II of this series. Part II provides information and examples of the racialization of the name "Keisha". By "racialization" I mean labeling the name "Keisha" as a "Black name".
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Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.
THE PROBABLE SOURCES OF THE NAME "KEISHA"
"Keisha" is a female name that is usually pronounced "KEY shah" (KEE-shah). I believe that the name "Keisha" was coined by African Americans around the mid 1960s. The earliest date that I've found for celebrities (Black and non-Black) with this birth name is 1965 and 1966. (Read a list below of some celebrities with this name.)
Here are two probable etymological theories for the name "Keisha".
Theory #1. Keisha is a contemporary variant form of the old Hebrew name "Keziah" whose meaning is usually given as "the Cassia tree" and the cinnamon scent that comes from that tree.
The Wikipedia page on the name "Keisha" ttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keisha indicates that
“Keisha is a name often attributed to African American culture, a variant of Keziah, for which there are several variants:”
I believe that this conclusion (which I'm referring to as "theory #1) is the most likely, although theory #2 (also) seems likely to me.
The name "Keziah" has sometimes been spelled "Kecia", and "Kessiah". "Keziah" is pronounced "kez- EE-ah" or KEZ-ee-ah". I've also read that "Keziah" is sometimes pronounced "Keh-ZEE-ah."
The name "Keziah" was known to African Americans from the 18th century on. (Read the information about folklorist Newport Niles Puckett's research below.). However, I'm not sure how those African Americans pronounced that name. My guess is that African Americans in the 1960s used Black American aesthetics and changed Keziah's/Kecia's, "Kessiah's pronunciation to "KEE-shah".
Citing data on African American names that was collected by Anglo- American educator, sociologist, and folklorist Newport Niles Puckett (July 8, 1898- Feb. 21, 1967), Eliza Dinwiddie-Boyd, editor of the 1994 book Proud Heritage: 11,001 Names For Your African- American child gives the following:
page 208 [female names]
"Kessiah" - The spelling variation of Keziah (see below), appears among freed blacks in Washington, D.c., 1863-64."
"Keziah - Hebrew: in the Old Testament, Kezia is one of the duaghters of Job, Appears among free black names, 1700-1800."
page 209 (female names)
"Kissie" - a diminutive for Keziah (see above), appearing in Augusta, Georgia in 1899."
"Kizzie" - The diminutive for Keziah (see above) was popularized in Alex Haley's Roots. The variantion Kizzy appears among free black names: 1800-60."
2. "Keisha" was coined by adding the "Ke" (key/kee) prefix to the suffix "isha" ("esha").
The elements "isha", "esha", and "iesha" have been used in African American female names since at least the early 20th century. Here are some historical examples:
"Treemonisha (1910/1972) is an opera composed by the famed African-American composer Scott Joplin, most famous for his ragtime piano works. Though it encompasses a wide range of musical styles other than ragtime, and Joplin did not refer to it as such, it is sometimes incorrectly referred to as a "ragtime opera". The music of Treemonisha includes an overture and prelude, along with various recitatives, choruses, small ensemble pieces, a ballet, and a few arias.
The opera was not performed in its entirety until 1972, after the discovery of the piano score.
“Treemonisha” - (a female name for) " a young, educated freed slave"
"Monisha" - (the name of) "Treemonisha's supposed mother"
"Iesha", a variant form of the name "Aisha", was the title of the October 1990 debut song by the African American boy group "Another Bad Creation". "...the song [Iesha] reached #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #6 on the R&B chart." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iesha
"Keisha" could have been created as a name whose spelling -if not its pronounciation- is similar to the Arabic/Swahili female name "'A'ishah, Aisha, Ayishah - [meaning] Living, prosperous; youngest wife of the Prophet" http://www.sudairy.com/arabic/fem.html.
My recollections are that the name "Aisha" was fairly well known in the late 1960s and 1970s among afro-centric African Americans (Muslims and non-Muslims).
"Moesha is an American sitcom series that aired on the UPN network from January 23, 1996, to May 14, 2001. The series stars R&B singer Brandy Norwood as Moesha Denise Mitchell, a high school student living with her family in the Leimert Park neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles…
The show focuses on the life of a middle class African-American family through the eyes of a typical girl"...
Given the sometimes negative connotations of the name "Keisha" at this time, it's significant that another "isha"/"esha" ending name was selected in the late 1990s as the name of an African American girl from a middle class family.
It occurs to me that theory #1 and theory #2 could both be true as African Americans in the mid 1960s searching for "unique" names could have happened on the Biblical name "Keziah" (and its variant forms). Not knowing how that name was pronounced, or perhaps purposely, Black Americans could have pronounced the name "Keziah" as "KEY=shah", in conformity with the historical aesthetic preferences for that "isha"/"esha" suffix. In the late 1960s and the 1970s it was difficult for African Americans to find "real" African names. During that time Arabic names were much more readily available to African Americans who wanted to change their "slave name" to a "free name"* Some Black people who were enslaved in United States, the Caribbean, and South American were Muslims. Also, a small number of African Americans have been introduced to some Arabic names via their membership in the Moorish Science Temple of America,(founded in 1928 and still active)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moorish_Science_Temple_of_America. After 1975, some members of the Nation of Islam under the leadership of Warith Deen Muhammad, took Arabic names. And in the late 1960s and 1970s, an influential albeit small number of African American professional athletes and Jazz musicians adopted Arabic names, often because of their conversion to Sunni Islam.
"Keisha" was a female name that African Americans back then thought "sounded African", although there's little documentation of that name actually having its source in an African language. Words with the same or somewhat similar spelling can have different etymologies and meanings.
The only entry that I've found to date for the name "Keisha" that attributes it to a traditional African language is from http://www.babynamewizard.com/baby-name/girl/kesha which cites
A World of Baby Names by Teresa Norman - Of African origin, meaning "favorite.".
Note that this book doesn't indicate which African language "Kesha" is said to come from. I find this suspect.
Here are some entries from books on African names for names that spelled somewhat similarly to "Kesiah":
Ogonna Chuks-orji's 1972 book Names From Africa includes an entry in the female names section for the Luganda *Uganda) name "kissa" (pronunciation kiss-SAH) meaning "born after twins". Eliza Dinwiddie-Boyd's 1997 book Proud Heritage 11,001 Names For Your African American Baby includes the entries "kissa" and "kizza" Luganda, "born after twins" in the female names section. And Tyra Mason & Sam Chckwas's 1997 book Real Names witrh Real Meanings for African Children includes these entries in the female & male names section: "Kesi" (North Africa) = born at a time when father worked hard" and "Kiiza" (Cameroon) - "born after twins". That book also includes this entries in the female name section only: "Kesi" (North Africa) -"judging" and this entry in the male name section only "Kiah" (Bobangi) - "always". From http://www.corporatelivewire.com/luxury/de-travel.html?id=a-hidden-gem-nigeria
Explore the caves to see the large colony of bats of various sizes as well as spotting the incredible fauna across the site including deer, antelope, grass cutter, porcupine, alligator and snakes. In one section a stream flows out from one of the tunnels into the River Nkissa
River Nkissa." [Nigeria, Yoruba language]
A TIMELINE FOR THE USE OF THE NAME "KEISHA" AND SOME OF ITS VARIANT FORMS (Birthnames of some female celebrities given in chronological order with racial identifiers)
Notice that it's not just in the United States that females have been given the name "Keisha". The partial list of celebrities with that name which is found below includes entries from the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand also were given this name.
I've not found any celebrities with the birth name "Keisha" or variant forms of that name before 1965. This suggests that the name "Keisha" may have been coined that year or shortly before then.
If you are aware of any celebrity or any other person with the birthname "Keisha" or variants of that name before that date, please add that information in the comment section below. Thanks!
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keisha_Jackson [African American] Keisha Jackson
"Keisha Jackson (born August 17, 1965) is a R&B singer, and is the daughter of R&B & Soul singer Millie Jackson"...
"Keisha (born October 25, 1966) is the stage name of an [Anglo]American erotic dancer and pornographic actress."
"Keshia Knight Pulliam (born April 9, 1979) is an [African American] actress. She is best known for her childhood role as Rudy Huxtable, the youngest child of Cliff and Clair Huxtable on the NBC sitcom The Cosby Show (1984–92) and as reformed con artist Miranda Lucas-Payne on the TBS comedy-drama Tyler Perry's House of Payne (2007–12)."
Keyshia Cole (born October 15, 1981) is an American singer, songwriter, record producer, businesswoman and television personality. She was born in Oakland, California
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keisha_Buchanan Keisha Buchanan [Black British singer/songwriter]
"Keisha Kerreece Fayeanne Buchanan (born 30 September 1984) is a British singer-songwriter and was a founding member of the BRIT Award-winning girl group the Sugababes alongside Mutya Buena, Siobhan Donaghy, Heidi Range and Amelle Berrabah."
"Kesha Rose Sebert (born March 1, 1987),[Anglo-American] simply known as Kesha (/ˈkɛʃə/; formerly styled as Ke$ha), is an American singer, rapper, and songwriter."
"Keshia Chanté (born Keshia Chanté Harper; June 16, 1988) is a [Black] Canadian singer-songwriter, television personality, actress, and philanthropist."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keshia_Thomas [no birth date given]
"Keshia Thomas is an African-American woman known for a 1996 event where she was photographed protecting a man believed to have been a Ku Klux Klan supporter. The resulting photograph, which was taken by Mark Brunner, has been considered to be iconic in nature and was named one of Life magazine's "Pictures of the Year" for 1996."
This concludes Part I of this series. Part II will be published ASAP.
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