Edited by Azizi Powell
Online references to the lyrics "Becky with the good hair" from Beyonce's song "Sorry" in her April 2016 visual album Lemonade* sparked my interest in the vernacular meaning of the female name "Becky" in African American culture.
For the record, I believe that it's wrong to use the name "Becky" or any other name or any other term to stereotype any individual or any group of people. But as a self-described cultural folklorist, I'm interested in sussing out where, when, and how "Becky" got the meaning that Beyonce gives it in her song- and any other meanings that are currently given to that name.
I already knew what the term "good hair" meant. Read comments about that term in this post's Addendum #1 below.
I noticed the term "Becky" used in online comments in the last few years as a referent for White women. But until I did some research last night, I didn't know that there was a "dirty" meaning as well as a clean meaning for the vernacular term "Becky". I would blame this on my old age, but I know that there are people older than me who are far more "hip to the jive" than I am.
The sexual meaning of "Becky" was popularized by Plies' June 2009 Hip Hop record entitled "Becky". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Becky_(song), but that meaning was probably used in the 'hood before that record. Nevertheless, I think that the clean meaning of "Becky" was used before the sexual meaning (what I call "the dirty meaning") of that term.
*Read an excerpt from an online post about "Becky" in Beyonce's song in Addendum #2 below.
Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2016/04/what-black-betty-brown-bess-really-mean.html for the somewhat related pancocojams post "What "Black Betty" & "Brown Bess" REALLY Mean".
WHAT "BECKY" MEANS (the "clean" definition)
The "clean" vernacular meaning of "Becky" is "a White female", especially a young White woman".
The term "Miss Ann" is a much older African American referent for "White women"*. However, it seems to me that "Miss Ann" denotes (denoted) a more proper, more mature White women than the White women referred to by the term "Becky". While "Miss Ann" carries negative connotations of women who are stiff, prudish, and respectable, "Becky" carries at least mildly negative connotations of women who are "un-hip" and "airheads" ("ditzy", "clueless" the "real world", particularly the world of the urban streets. In other words, the non-sexualized meaning of the term "Becky" is an African American created stereotype for White women or a certain sub-set of White women (young White women, and (in the 1990s, especially "valley girl" type young White women.)
I'm not sure when the term "Becky" was first used as a referent for a White female, and especially for a young White woman. Perhaps that term didn't "become a thing" until Hip Hop artist Sir-Mix-A-Lot happened to use that name for one of the White woman in the introduction to his now classic 1992 record "Baby Got Back". That introduction's first line is "Oh, my, god. Becky, look at her butt."
Although at least one online article indicates that Sir Mix-A- Lot popularized the name "Becky" as a referent for White woman*, I haven't found any documentation of that term's use before that record was released. If "Becky" as a slang reference for "a White women" started (immediately?) after Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back" record, maybe the name "Becky" was selected as the name for that woman because of its alliteration with the word "butt".
And if "Becky" was used as a clean referent for White women immediately after Sir Mix-A-Lot's 1992 Hip Hop record, why can't I find any online documentation of that usage from the 1990s or even from the early 2000s before the hoopla about Beyonce's Lemonade album? Am I not looking in the right places? And am I that much out of the loop of being up to date with African American vernacular that I didn't know even the clean usage of that name? Maybe.
Read information below about Sir-Mix-A-Lot's record "Baby Got Back".
* [Added April 28, 2016] Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2016/04/two-examples-of-malvina-reynolds.html for a post that provides information about the terms "Mister Charlie and Miss Ann" that were (or are still) used by African Americans as generic referents for White men and White women.
Click https://www.yahoo.com/beauty/becky-not-racial-slur-stop-171000408.html Style
"Becky" Is Not a Racial Slur — So You Should Stop Calling Beyoncé's 'Lemonade' Racist, mic.com, April 27, 2016: "Sir Mix-a-Lot popularized the Becky reference in the early '90s in the intro to his critical hit "Baby Got Back," in which two disapproving women can be heard critiquing another woman's figure and style."
OTHER POSSIBLE REASONS WHY "BECKY" CAME TO BE USED AS A VERNACULAR [CLEAN] TERM FOR (YOUNG) WHITE WOMEN
1. "Becky" is a play on the term "Black Betty" from the (at least) 1930s folk song with that title
Here's an excerpt of the Wikipedia page about the song "Black Betty"
"Black Betty" (Roud 11668) is a 20th-century African-American work song often credited to Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter as the author, though the earliest recordings are not by him. Some sources claim it is one of Lead Belly's many adaptations of earlier folk material; in this case an 18th-century marching cadence about a flintlock musket. There are numerous recorded versions, including a cappella, folk, and rock arrangements.
The best known modern recordings are rock versions by Ram Jam, Tom Jones, and Spiderbait, all of which were hits.
The origin and meaning of the lyrics are subject to debate. Historically the "Black Betty" of the title may refer to the nickname given to a number of objects: a musket, a bottle of whiskey, a whip, or a penitentiary transfer wagon."...
Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2016/04/1930s-versions-of-folk-song-black-betty.html for a pancocojams posts on 1930 versions of the folk song "Black Betty".
By reading online sources such as Wikipedia (though that source may not be all that reliable), I've learned that there have been different meanings for the term "Black Betty". It occurs to me that the early meanings of the term "Black Betty" may have nothing whatsoever to do with "Black Betty" folk song (or folk songs). Furthermore, it's possible that the term "Black Betty" may have more than one meaning within the same song.
2. The only fictitious character named "Becky" that I'm familiar with is the name of the girl in Mark Twain's novel Tom Sawyer. But I'm not sure that has anything to do with the use of "Becky" as a referent for young White women.
3. Two Syllable Nicknames & Names With "Y" Or "Ie" Endings & The Name "Becky" Rarely Being Given As A Nickname For Black Females
I don't know why the name "Becky" was selected to serve as a referent for White women instead of any other so-called "White name or nickname".But I'm not surprised that the referent for a young White woman ends with a "y" since prior to about the 1980s almost every personal name in the United States had a diminutive (nickname) that ended with "y" and "ie". Two syllable nicknames and personal names ending with "y" if not "ie" are still rather common in the United States, particularly among non-Black children, teens, and adults.
For example, consider the names of some of the White members of the fictitious teen cheerleading movie series Bring It On: Courtney", "Whitney", "Kasey" and "Darcy" are some of the names of the White members of the suburban cheerleading squad in the first movie in that Bring It On cheerleading movie series (2000) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0204946/fullcredits?ref_=tt_cl_sm#cast. And the lead White character and another important White character in the 2006 movie in that series Bring It On All Or Nothing were named Britney and "Winnie". http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0490822/fullcredits?ref_=tt_ov_st_sm. Either of those names -or the name "Brandi" or "Ashley" or any other "y" or "ie" two syllable name - could have been selected by African Americans instead of "Becky" as the generic referent for young White women. That "Becky" was chosen instead of any of those names might have been a fluke.
One contributing factor for the selection of the name "Becky" instead of any of those other "y" or "Ie" ending names is that "Rebecca" (or other spellings of that name) doesn't appear to be given that often to Black American females, and (according to online articles that I've read), Black Americans with the name "Rebecca" aren't usually given the nickname "Becky". Anecdotally, I know one African American woman who is forty years old named "Rebekha" who doesn't have a nickname that I'm aware of. I also know one Ango-American female in late teens named "Bekka". I think that is her real name and not a shortened form of "Rebekha".
Here's one article that I came across about the name "Becky" in the United States:
From https://daratmathis.com/2013/10/23/an-apology-to-white-beckys-everywhere/ "AN APOLOGY TO EVERY (WHITE) GIRL NAMED BECKY", Posted on October 23, 2013 by d. tafakari
..."First of all, let me say the unstated obvious. There are such things as black names and there are traditionally European names. There are indeed black girls named Rebecca. But anecdata suggests that black families generally do not nickname their daughters Becky. That’s a “white name.”
This post also comments about the sexual vernacular meaning of "Becky".
Here's another online page about the name "Becky":
"Why are white women referred to as 'Becky' by black people......?
On every black website I have visited like Bossip, black authors and commentators refer to white women as 'Becky'.... they make comments like...''he is going out with a Becky....., ''that is what black men get from marring Becks''....Becky this, Becky that. I'm from England and this is all new and somewhat funny to me, but why?
Update: @Elizabeth....your link to the Urban dictionary has helped to confirm what some of the answers have tried to explain....Thanks you ALL for your answers....Now I know why white women are called Becky....lol"
The urbandictionary.com link refers to what I call the dirty meaning/s of "Becky".
Here are two responses to this yahoo.com query that refer to the non-sexual meaning of "Becky". Both of these responses were submitted by Black women (as indicated by their screen icons of a Black woman].
"haha its the cliche'd 90's name for the white girl out of the valley. I'm assuming there was a lot of people named so at some time, so people just began using it. And it usually doesn't go both ways. How many black girls do you know named Becky?? Same reason whites refer to black women as Shaniqua or Lakeesha."
"Out of the valley" probably means "a Valley girl". "Valley Girls" was a relatively widely used referent in the 1980s-1990s for a sub-set of young White women:
"The label originally referred to a swell of upper-middle class girls living in the early 1980s Los Angeles commuter towns of the San Fernando Valley, but in time the term became more broadly applied to any woman or girl—primarily in the United States and Canada—who engendered the associated affects of ditziness, airheadedness, and/or greater interest in conspicuous consumption than intellectual or personal accomplishment.
A sociolect associated with valley girls termed "Valleyspeak" arose in the San Fernando valley in the 1980s. Qualifiers such as "like", "whatever", "way", "as if!", "super", "totally" and "tubular" (a surfing term) are interjected in the middle of phrases and sentences as emphasizers"...
The two women featured in the introduction to Sir Mix A Lot's "Baby Got Back" song and official video were portrayed as Valley Girls. More information about Sir Mix A Lot's song is found later in this post.
"I never call white girls "Becky", but I'm assuming that Rebekah/Rebecca was a very common name when it popped up."
2. TWO OTHER POSSIBLE REASONS WHY "BECKY" IS USED AS A REFERENT FOR WHITE WOMEN INSTEAD OF OF OTHER "WHITE FEMALE" NAMES [revised 4/27/2016]
HOW THE CLEAN VERNACULAR MEANING OF "BECKY" WAS POPULARIZED IN THE 1990s
If Sir-Mix-A-Lot's hit 1992 Hip Hop record "Baby Got Back" didn't directly lead to the use of the name "Becky" as a referent for White woman (or a certain type of White woman), there's no doubt that that vernacular use of the name Becky was popularized by that song. The first words in that song are voiced by a young White Valley Girl who stands with her silent White friend Becky staring at a Black woman in the distance. Using Valley Girl lingo and pronunciation, the unnamed White women criticizes that Black woman's big butt.
Oh, my, god. Becky, look at her butt.
It is so big. [scoff]
She looks like one of those rap guys' girlfriends.
But, you know, who understands those rap guys? [scoff]
They only talk to her, because, she looks like a total prostitute, 'kay?
I mean, her butt, is just so big.
I can't believe it's just so round, it's like, out there, I mean— gross. Look!
She's just so... black!"
Source: [for the full lyrics] http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/sirmixalot/babygotback.html
The line "Oh, my, god. Becky, look at her butt" has since become a rather widely known meme.
In 2009 another Hip Hop record Plies "Becky" documented and popularized a sexual meaning for that female name. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Becky
"According to Plies, "Becky" is referring to the act of fellatio. Plies terms the act "Becky" because of the widely held notion and/or stereotype that Caucasian women are somewhat more sexually liberal in terms of frequency of encounters, random partnering, and overall lasciviousness. With "Becky" being a popular name given to females at birth in the White society, one can assume that Plies simply chose this name because of its unique association to "Whiteness", particularly where the female is concerned.
Give me that becky!
by Lovely Leo October 13, 2009
Warning- This video contains sexually suggestive lyrics and visual but no profanity and no explicit sex. As is the case with many YouTube comment threads, a great deal of profanity and sexually explicit language is found in this video's discussion thread.
Sir Mix A Lot Baby Got Back Best Quality
CHRISONSLOW, Uploaded on Sep 18, 2009
Back" here means "booty" (butt). "Baby got back" praises Black women who have big butts.
It's important to note that "Becky" is used in that introduction as a name or nickname for the young White woman and that name has no sexual innuendos or connotations.
Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2016/04/sir-mix-lots-1992-hip-hop-record-baby.html for a pancocojams post that focuses on the socio-cultural influence of Sir Mix A Lot's 1992 "Baby God Back" record. Selected comments from that video's discussion thread about the term "Becky" and other aspects of the song are included in that post along with this video.
ADDENDUM #1 - WHAT "GOOD HAIR" MEANS IN AFRICAN AMERICAN CULTURE
A popular* term in the African-American community, used to describe an black person's hair that closely resembles the hair of a typical white person (i.e. soft, managable, long, as opposed to "nappy" or "bad" hair). The closer your hair is to a white person's, the "better" your hair is. See: "bad hair".
Note: Most people who use this term would never admit the inferiority complex from which it came.
Ignorant Aunt Zykeshia: "Lord-Jeezus! Girl, you gots dat good hair! It long, curly and booootiful!"
-by Little Lauren May 17, 2005
I think that "widely used" fits better than the word "popular".
Beyoncé's "Becky" Lyric Has Racial Undertones That We All Need to Understand
April 25, 2016 by LAUREN LEVINSON
..."Some people believe there is a bigger issue* surrounding [Beyonce's] lyrics "Becky [with the good hair]." Rather than trying to figure out if Becky is or isn't Rachel, they point out that there are racial undertones to Beyoncé's lyrics. The inference is that "Becky" has desirable, sleek hair, while Beyoncé has a naturally curly texture under the wigs and without hot tools. It sheds light on an overall picture when it comes to how black coarse hair is perceived, since the former is "good" and the latter is assumed to be the opposite.
"The fact that people are trying to figure out who Becky is defeats the purpose of this lyric — and the whole performance to me," said POPSUGAR social media editor Larissa Green, who is biracial**. "Being pushed aside because our hair is coarse and doesn't follow a straight and narrow is something very real to me. I think her lyric means: if you can't handle it, then that's no one's problem but your own."
The phrase "Becky with the good hair" is found in Beyonce's song "Sorry". That song is track four of her April 2016 album "Lemonade". At this time, audio of the songs from that album aren't available on YouTube.
The word/s given in brackets in that quote are added by me to explain what is meant by the word after that bracket.
"Biracial" here means of mixed racial ancestry. In the United States that word usually means Black/non-Black.
Note that "Becky with the good hair" isn't a phrase that was used (or at least wasn't widely used) by African Americans before Beyonce's song. That may be because if a female is a Becky (in the non-sexual use of that term -meaning a White female), it's assumed that she would have "good hair" (in the African American meaning of that term- hair that is straight, sleek, non-coarse, non-tightly curled like most Black people's hair.) Actually, that's not true, but moving right along from that point, the woman who social media has rightly or wrongly identified as the "Becky with good hair" in Beyonce's song is a woman of mixed White/East Indian [the nation of India] ancestry. Therefore, she might not be considered "White" by some White people in the United States and by White people elsewhere. The popsugar.com article that is excerpted above mentions who social media thinks is the Becky in Beyonce's song.
Excerpt from Love's Racialized Failure in "Lemonade" By PurposelyPolemical, 2016/04/26 ·
..."By now we’ve all seen, or at least read about, Beyonce’s latest project Lemonade. Reviews of this visual album have been mostly positive; but what has fixated most public attention is the question of infidelity in Beyonce’s high profile marriage to Jay-Z. But aside from vocalizing what could be some very real angst about marital strife, Lemonade is a broader commentary on love and race.
At first glance connecting love and race may seem counter-intuitive—one is emotional and one is political; but, in true feminist fashion Beyonce demonstrates on Lemonade how the personal is political. If we approach the album as less about the inter-personal dynamics between Beyonce and Jay-Z and see it instead as a metaphor for the way society, as a whole, doesn’t love black folks—then Lemonade’s deeper meaning—and broader political contribution—becomes clear. The fact that the album hinges, at its center, on the question of black murder at the hands of police and non-black vigilantes isn’t just an “add on” to a narrative mostly about a shaky marriage; it’s actually related to the broader critique of the piece.
In Lemonade Beyonce not only calls out Jay-Z’s cheating, she frames that cheating as being about race when she sings, “Better call Becky with the good hair.” The term “Becky” in African American lingua franca marks whiteness; and good hair suggests someone who is mixed or not quite black. In this way, Jay’s betrayal is not just a betrayal of the heart, it’s a betrayal of her as a black woman. It’s very clear from Lemonade that the “character” of Jay Z is cheating largely because he is interested in a lighter woman with straighter her, a less black woman. This is a vital part of understanding the symbolic logic of this masterwork....
Beyonce contextualizes Jay Z’s failure to love her in the context of a national epidemic of black anti-love. This may seem trivial until you consider the devastating consequences of black anti-love—both in terms of our larger society and also in terms of “black love,” and black women’s commitment to it"...
This isn’t the say that interracial love is anathema to the black nation; and Lemonade seems eager to rebut any such assumption with a montage of couples at the happy ending of the visual album. Many of those couples are interracial couples. But an infidelity fueled by a partner’s colorist addiction is another thing altogether.
Here's a comment exchange from that post's discussion thread:
terrypinder Apr 26 · 07:55:35 PM
"Why does everyone assume Becky is white?
Does no one watch Empire?"
PurposelyPolemical terrypinder Apr 26 · 07:57:42 PM
"I watch Empire...but I’m at a loss. Who is the black Becky on there? Remind? lol"
terrypinder PurposelyPolemical Apr 26 · 08:13:34 PM
"Gabourey Sidibe’s character :)"
Pancocojams editor's note:
terrypinder is obviously joking with that comment as Gabourey Sidibe is a dark skinned Black actress.
The character on the television series Empire who might be considered a Black Becky is "Anika", portrayed by African American actress Grace Gealey. Grace Gealey is light skinned.
The content of this post is presented for socio-cultural, etymological, and entertainment purposes.
All content remains with their owners.
Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post and thanks to Sir Mix A Lot for the significant and perhaps unexpectedly positive impact that "Baby Got Back" has made in the United States and elsewhere.
Thanks for visiting pancocojams.
Visitor comments are welcome.