Thursday, June 11, 2015

How The Name "Keisha" & Its Variants Came To Be Considered "Black Names"

Edited by Azizi Powell

Latest revision- July 20, 2021, including title change. Former title "The Racialization Of The Female Name "Keisha" & Its Variants"

This is Part II of a two part pancocojams series on the name "Keisha", its probable source and its contemporary African American variants.

Part II of this pancocojams series provides information and examples of the racialization of the name "Keisha". By "racialization" I mean labeling the name "Keisha" as a "Black name".

Click for Part I of this series. 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 birth dates of some African American celebrities and celebrities from other races who are named "Keisha" or similar names.

The content of this post is presented for historical, linguistic, sociological, and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

From David Zax, Aug 25, 2008
"What’s up with black names, anyway?

From Tayshaun to Rau'shee, Olympic athletes have been a reminder of distinctive African-American names. Before you poke fun, here's a history lesson.

...That African-Americans have a tendency to buck more common names is obvious. Take a quick glance down the Olympic roster. It is the black names that disproportionately stand out: Tayshaun, Deron, Rau’shee, Raynell, Deontay, Taraje, Jozy, Kerron, Hyleas, Chaunte, Bershawn, Lashawn, Sanya, Trevell, Sheena, Ogonna, Dremiel. You can safely bet that NBC’s commentators practiced these a few more times in the mirror than the name “Michael Phelps.” And, indeed, black Americans have spearheaded and continue to lead the trend of creative naming in this country, even if they haven’t garnered as many headlines as Gwyneth Paltrow. Creative naming has reached every race and class, but “it is largely and profoundly the legacy of African-Americans,” writes Eliza Dinwiddie-Boyd in her baby-naming book “Proud Heritage.” Shalondra and Shaday, Jenneta and Jonelle, Michandra and Milika — in some parts of the country today, nearly a third of African-American girls are given a name belonging to no one else in the state (boys’ names tend to be somewhat more conservative)...

The story of distinctive black names in the U.S. is far richer, more varied and interesting than the celebrity’s mere pathological dread of appearing normal. From the beginning, many black Americans had distinctive names. The weirdly classical Caesar was a particularly common slave name, bestowed, it would seem, by slaveholders with a profoundly unfunny sense of irony. And sometimes distinctive slave names were carried out of Africa and preserved: Some African societies name children after the day of the week they were born, and “there is a preponderance of day names among the leaders of the very early slave revolts,” writes Joey Lee Dillard in “Black Names.” From early on, then, some distinctive black names were tied to black resistance against white oppression.

Distinctive black naming persisted through the centuries; the folklorist Newbell Niles Puckett turned up thousands of such names culling records from 1619 to the mid-1940s, names like Electa, Valantine and Zebedee. But by and large, it remained a minority practice within black culture, and most black names weren’t all that different from those given to whites. Then, in the 1960s, something changed, resulting in an unprecedented spike in black creative names...

What happened? The dates, of course, are suggestive. The ’60s were a time of massive black protest from which emerged an accentuated separatist strain in black thought, epitomized in the Black Power movement. Blacks became increasingly interested in Africa and eager to show pride in their roots. (Indeed, “Roots” — Alex Haley’s book as well as the TV miniseries based upon it — itself had a remarkable effect on naming practices. According to Harvard sociologist Stanley Lieberson, the name Kizzy, which belonged to a “Roots” character, skyrocketed from oblivion to become the 17th most popular name for black girls in Illinois in 1977.) Islam began in these years to have a clear influence, too, most visibly with Cassius Clay adopting the name Muhammad Ali in 1964. Others followed suit, including two fellows named Lew Alcindor and LeRoi Jones, whom you know as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Amiri Baraka. Around this time, an American boy named Barack Hussein Obama would be born. His given names, of Semitic origin, mean “blessed” and “good.” Soon, out of these more political traditions grew a new one of creating names whose sounds the parents merely found pleasing.

White ridicule kept pace with these names and even preceded them: A racist tradition dating to at least the early part of the 20th century has accused black people of having foolish names — often, goes the story, the result of an uneducated mother overhearing a medical term at the hospital and thinking it pretty. Interestingly, though, much of the recent backlash against black names has come from the black community itself. The Peoples News is written by African-Americans. In March, the black blogger behind Stuff Black People Hate posted a denunciation of “stupid names,” which he took the care to subcategorize into “Swahili Bastardizations” (Shaquan), “Luxury Latch-ons” (Prada), “Megalomaniacal Descriptors” (Heaven) and “The Unfathomably Ridiculous” (Anfernee). More than five months after its posting, a thread of feisty commentary still runs in response. Hating on black names is hardly a phenomenon confined to a small corner of the black blogosphere. Bill Cosby a few years back ranted at the NAACP about blacks “with names like Shaniqua, Shaligua, Mohammed and all that crap and all of them are in jail.” "

Here are some comments about the name "Keziah" from Note that these commenters provided no racial information. But, given the fact that most Internet bloggers are White, it's likely that these commenters are White.

"I have known of the name Keziah since a child and always loved it particularly as it comes from the name of the cassia tree which produces cinnamon which is the most gorgeous smell. I have only known one Keziah until finally after three boys my daughter Keziah Star was born - she is now 3 months old and we have had many positive responses to her name. Sometimes we call her Kizzy which I beleive was the usual abreviation when the name was very popuar in Puritan times.
-lexyB 11/10/2006"

"This was the name of my fourth generation grandmother. While doing research about her I found that some people would spell her like like Kisiah, Kesiah, Kessiah and Kazia. I think it is a very beautiful name with a quality of strength and pride. =)"
- Cyneburga 10/19/2007

"This is my name. But I have the alternate spelling, Kisiah. After my 5th great grandmother. I am 35 years old and have met only one other Kisiah in my lifetime. I get compliments on my name almost every time I introduce myself to people. They say it is very unique and beautiful. I am also VERY used to people not remembering my name, it's a hard one. But over all, have always been very happy with my name, and proud of it."
- sia13sia 12/18/2011

"I've always known my name had biblical origins, but couldn't find exactly how it was spelled as there are so many translations. I have a variation of the name, Kessiah. I've battled with liking my name, but grown to love it as I've gotten older. I know of at least two other Kessiahs; one being my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother on my father's side, and a girl whose mother asked mine if she could use the name. I'm thinking of naming a child (girl or boy regardless) a variation of it as well. It makes me happy to see that it's a well liked name worldwide, people always tell me it's unique and beautiful."
- siahanne 10/28/2013
Contrast these comments about the distinctive name "Keziah" with comments about the distinctive name "Keisha":
"[Keziah] Neat name. Much better than the horrendous "Keisha"."
- Dawson 12/31/2010

"My name is Kezia

My parents are native Spanish speakers so when my Hispanic family members say it (Kess-YAH), it has two syllablles and pronounce the "a" with the same "a" sound as in "father"

American people I've came across say it with three stressed syllables (Kes-EE-Yuh) and pronounce the "a" with that schwa mid central "uh" sound similar to the "a" in "about"

Close friends and my siblings call me Kes. My aunts and grandmother call me Case
Either way I'm cool with it.

I'd prefer these over Keisha any day...Only because people mispronounce my name as Keisha quite often :)"
-kezlokez, 8/31/2014
What makes "Keziah" acceptable and "Keisha" unacceptable is that "Keziah" is perceived as a "White name" and "Keisha" has come to be perceived as "a Black name" - although both names have been given to females who are non-Black. The spelling for the name "Keisha" and the name "Keziah" aren't all that different. However, it's not just spelling-particularly the use of certain prefixes and/or suffixes, or apostrophes, or hypens, or capitalizations- that cause those names to be considered as a "black name". A name is considered a "black name" when a critical mass of Black people begin to choose that name, and when the media and researchers indicate that name is a "black name".

Furthermore, through self-fulfilling prophecy, in the United States a name that is publicly considered "Black" is less likely to be given to non-Black children. "Tyrone" is one example of this.

"Black or African-American names are used by people of African ancestry living in the United States.

Given names used by blacks are often invented or creatively-spelled variants of more traditional names. Some names are created using fashionable syllables, for example the prefixes La- or De- and the suffixes -ique or -isha. Also, punctuation marks like apostrophes and dashes are sometimes used (though infrequently).

•DeAndre, DeJuan, DeShawn, JuMichael (rare), Keyshawn, Latonya, LaShonda, Lashawn, T’Keyah (rare) and YaSheema (rare) use prefixes in combination with another name. There are unlimited possibilities for creating new names. Sometimes the letter after the prefix is capitalized.

•Ebony, Precious, Unique are examples of vocabulary names used by black Americans.

•Imani and Malik are examples of African/Muslim names used by black Americans.

•Andre, Darius, Darryl, Maurice, and Tyrone are examples of names that, though used by non-black Americans, are more commonly used by black Americans."
Note that in the early 20th century names such as "Beulah" and "Ola Mae" (female) and "Willie" and "Leroy" were considered to be "black names" because some Black people used those names or Black characters were given those names. I believe that is the same thing that is happening now with the name "Keisha" and other names that are labeled "black names".

I believe that there's nothing wrong with recognizing that certain prefixes such as "La", "Sha", and "De" and certain suffixes such as "isha", "tay", and "ika" have been used in some names that have been given to African Americans since the late 1960s. However, just as it was wrong to stigmatize people with those "old-time" names, it's wrong to stigmatize newer non-standard American names and those people having those names.

Here's an excerpt from a 2013 article about a mixed race (Black/White) young woman who changed her name from "Keisha" to "Kylie":
Teen changes her name from Keisha because she encountered so much prejudice
By James Nye. Published: 5 November 2013
"A mixed-race Kansas City teenager called Keisha has changed her name to avoid what she believes are damaging racial stereotypes some people link with certain popular African-American names.

Gifted the name-change by her mother as an early Christmas present at the cost of $175, Keisha Austin, 19, hopes that by calling herself Kylie she will avoid being associated with the negative connotations she feels the name provokes...

Uncomfortable since an early age with her name, Keisha said that because she did not grow up in a diverse community and has never known a lot of African-Americans, as she aged her name became a source of jokes.

Children at school would ask her is there was a 'La' or 'Sha' in front of her name, in comments that can only be taken as based at best in ignorance and at worst in racism.
'It’s like they assumed that I must be a certain kind of girl,' she said. 'Like, my name is Keisha so they think they know something about me, and it always felt negative.'

... Keisha Austin was asked by a teacher at her school if she spelled her name like pop singer Ke$ha. One teacher even asked her if there was a dollar sign in her name like the pop singer Ke$ha.

Songs such as 'Keisha'a Pain' about a poor young girl who sells her body to get by in life added to her discomfort.

Going to her mother, Cristy, who is white, Keisha explained how much she wanted to change her name.

In turn, her mother told her why she had christened her that in the first place.

As a single mother, Cristy chose it because she wanted a name that represented a strong African American identity.
'I saw it as a source of pride,' Cristy says. 'I wanted her to have that.'
However, her daughter was adamant over the name-change and Cristy decided that it would be a Christmas present, despite believing her daughter had a perfectly fine name in the first place"...
*The woman who changed her name and others she met may not have known that a well known [White] prostitute is also named "Keisha". These two names are included in Part I's list of celebrities with the birth name "Keisha".

Note that in 1994 when the White mother of the young woman in that article gave her daughter the name "Keisha" she thought that that name "represented a strong African American identity". What changed between then and now? Why is "Kylie" an acceptable name but "Keisha" is a name that is ridiculed?

The easiest answer to both of those questions is that the name "Keisha" has attracted negative connotations while there are no negative connotations (yet) for the name "Kylie".

As indicated in the article quoted above, contributing factors to the negative attitudes about the name "Keisha" were not only that a [White] pop singer named "Keisha" spelled her name with a dollar sign*, and a Hip-Hop artists recorded a record about a prostitute name "Keisha", but schoolmates associated the name "Keisha" with its variant form "LaKeisha"/ "Lakeysha"/ "Lakeesha" (and other spellings) as well as other unique names that begin with a "Sha" prefix. Names with a "La" prefix are usually given to African American females and names with a "Sha" prefix are usually given to Black males or Black females. What makes these names the object of jokes is that the negative sterotypes about Black people or poor Black people have been grafted onto them. And it's not just non-Black people who stigmatize those names and those people having those names. A scene from the 2005 American movie Coach Carter documents Black people ridiculing "isha" names.

“Many African-American names are derivatives of African names, or just "African-sounding." But the problem is that African-American names can also "stigmatise" the owner in the wider world. There is a famous scene in the movie "Coach Carter" when a pregnant teenage African American girl is asked what she plans to name her baby. She replies "Loquisha" and her friend says "Well, she might as well have the name 'Food Stamps."" The message is crystal clear - Loquisha is a "black" name and - because names can have a powerful impact on destiny - the baby is going to struggle in later life.”
A number of Black people and non-Black people routinely refer to some names as "ghetto names". According to some people "ghetto names" are any non-standard American names that Black people use, but particularly names that begin with certain prefixes, and/or end with certain suffixes, as well as names that be longer than three syllables. Although the name "Keisha" is probably a newly formed (around 1965) variant of the Biblical name "Keziah", its selection by a number of African Americans celebrities and its "isha" suffix have resulted in "Keisha" being considered "a black name", if not "a ghetto name". As the term "ghetto name" imply, the view is that people with those types of names are always poor. Of course, this isn't always true.

Referring to certain names as "black names" or "ghetto names" provides non Black people and Black people with often societally accepted opportunities to bad mouth certain Black people or all Black people. And such labeling has many more negative results than the possible or probably loss of job opportunities.

From "My name is Keisha and pop culture ruined my name"

From rap to viral internet tales, the degradation of Keisha is widespread so I ask you, please: keep my name out of your mouth.

Lakeisha Goedluck, 27 MAR 2020
…."Across the board, it’s often the so-called black names that end in “-isha” that receive flack and ridicule. From an etymological standpoint, the root of a lot of them is “Aisha”, derived from an Arabic adjective that means “alive” or “well”.


Aisha and other monikers of its ilk have been adapted to include prefixes, suffixes and apostrophes to give rise to black American forenames. John notes that these additions are sometimes credited to either Louisianan French, African denomination, or are simply included for the pleasant way that they sound. In particular, the black American variant “Keisha” has been besmirched beyond its primary definition. As a child, having the name Lakeisha used to cause me a lot of anxiety and upset. Even now, I’ll be unjustly judged for my supposed “ghetto name”. People who have read my name first and met me afterwards will say things like: “Of course you’re black – I expected you to be less well-spoken, though.” Kelly explains that certain black American names are perceived to “sound black” so are subject to racial prejudice. “White people might name their children ‘Ajax’ or ‘Trigger’ and, while sometimes a punchline, they are not subject to the same level of racialised venom – this, to me, clearly points to an issue of power,” he concludes.

But how has the degradation of black American names become so standardised in modern society? As is the case with most issues rooted in racism, the discrimination targeted towards ethnic names isn’t arbitrary. Cultural influence and entrenched social beliefs go hand in hand to fuel the ideology that certain names carry more merit than others – and this is sadly perpetuated both within the black community and beyond it. While traditional white English names may be mocked for their banality, the Emilys and Bens of the world are usually spared from being tied to negative connotations.

Keisha isn’t a wanton woman, a person to be pitied or a throwaway plot device; Keisha is simply a name steeped in cultural pride that’s mainly given to black girls. So, at a time when people like me still struggle to land job interviews due to our ethnic-sounding names, it’s the misguided attitudes held against them that need to be rejected instead. "...

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  1. I know that in modern times Keisha is perceived as a name more likely to belong to a black female, but for curiosity I searched for it in English census records 1841- 1911, and got 5 results. But, I'm pretty sure these were just accidental variant spellings of Keziah, which was a surprisingly popular name - 56, 161 results.

    If you were to ask me how many of those Keziahs were black though I can't tell: British censuses at this period only recorded birthplace, not ethnicity.

    The Bible was a big source of rare names for British people, especially those of Methodist or similar faiths. I knew an old lady (Methodist and white) known as 'Carrie' to everyone, but whose full given name was actually 'Kerenhappeuch' (pronounced ka-run-AP-uck). Yep, it's in the Bible! She wasn't alone either - there were over 1000 girls christened with that name. And a friend has an ancestor called 'Hatita' - and he was a boy. Wonder if he got into fights with kids who called him 'Hattie'? :)

    1. Thanks for your comment, slam2011.

      Here's information from about the name Keziah:
      "Keziah is a person in the Hebrew Bible. She was the second of the three daughters born to Job after his sufferings (Job 42:14). Her elder sister was Jemima and her younger sister Keren-Happuch.

      A number of etymologies have been suggested for her name, among them the Hebrew for Cassia, from the name for the spice tree. The name has been taken to symbolize female equality, since all of Job's three daughters received an inheritance from their father, an unusual circumstance in a time period when women and men were not treated equally.[1]"
      I wonder if the male name "Hatita" was a variant form of the population name "Hittites".

  2. Still browsing the census, there was a 'Quace Johnson' living in Liverpool in 1911, born in West Africa in 1886 - I bet he was a 'Kwesi'.

    1. Yes, I think the name "Quace" derived from the Akan day name "male born on Sunday: Kwasi, Akwasi, Kwesi"

      Adaptations of Akan day names (such as "Cuff" and "Coffey" for "Kofi" are documented in 18th century United States and in the Caribbean.

  3. I read-but can't find now- a lengthy discussion from commenters to a post on so-called "ghetto names". A couple of the commenters wrote that people categorize names that are considered standard in the United States as "black names" when a certain number of Black people start using them. An excerpt from the this research addresses that;

    The Quarterly Journal Of Economics
    The Causes and Consequences of Distinctive Black Names
    Ronld G. Fyrer, Jr. and Steven D. Levitt
    Vol CXIX August 2004, Issue 3

    “In the 1960s Blacks and Whites choose relatively similar first names for their children. Over a short period of time in the early 1970s, that pattern changed dramatically with most Blacks (particularly those living in racially isolated neighborhoods) adopting increasingly distinctive names, but a subset of Blacks actually moving toward more assimilating names. The patterns in this data appear most consistent with a model in which the rise of the Black power movement influenced how Blacks perceived their identities. Among Blacks born in the last two decades, names provide a strong signal of socioeconomic status, which was not previously the case. We find, however, no negative relationship between having a distinctive Black name and later life outcomes after controlling for a child’s circumstances at birth.”
    [Researchers] “used data that covered every child born in California in the past four decades. “We first document the stark differences between Black and White name choices in recent years. For example, more than 40% of the Black girls born in California in recent years received a name that not one of the roughly 100,000 White girls born in California that year was given. Even among popular names, racial patterns are pronounced. Names such as DeShawn, Tyrone, Reginald, Shanice, Precious, Kiara, and Deja are quite popular among Blacks but virtually unheard of for Whites. The opposite is true for names such as Connor, Cody, Jake, Molly, Emily, Abigail, and Caitlin. Each of these names appear in at least 2,000 cases (between 1989- 2000) with less than two percent of the recipients Black. Overall, Black choices of first names differ substantially more from Whites than do the names chosen by native born Hispanics and Asians….
    Notice the inclusion of the names "Tyrone" & "Reginald" in the listing of names that that research found to be more popular with African Americans than White Americans.

    The (usually) female name "Precious" is part of a category of "African American" names that I call "high esteem" names- these names show that the parents hold their child in high esteem. That category may be a sub-set of "high status" name like "Prince" or "Star".

  4. I didn't know that Reginald was considered a black name, but it explains something. There's an American comedian based in London, Reginald D. Hunter, who's from Georgia originally. I actually didn't think it was his real name! Not many men his age in Britain would be called Reginald, it's considered a very old-fashioned name here. (
    I remember there was a TV series on a couple of years back about a lady detective, set in Botswana, and she was called Precious Ramotswe. Perhaps giving babies high-esteem names is an African custom originally?

    1. I also didn't know that some people considered "Reginald" (nickname "Reggie") a "Black name". I also read the same thing for the name "Antoine" although I knew that some variant forms of that name "Antwan" and "Antuan" are usually given to African American males.

      I wonder if a better term for "high esteem names" is "parental affection/praise names".

      I don't know if African Americans' custom of giving these types of name that express one's love, high regard, and high expectations for the child "originally" comes from Africa more than anywhere else, but there are LOTS of "parental affection/praise names" in traditional African language and Arabic languages. To cite a few examples of traditional African names and Arabic names which are names given to African Americans who I know:

      Furaha female, Swahili
      "joy, happiness"
      Ifetayo female, Yoruba
      "Love brings joy" [note: That page listed the name "Ife", but, in addition to my knowing an African American woman named "Ifetayo", that is the name of a Brooklyn, New York cultural center]
      Jelani, male, Swahili
      "mighty" [This name is quite popular among African Americans]

      Jalil- male, Arabic
      "important, exalted"
      Jamal, male (with traditional male variants such as Jamil, Jamaal, Jamel and Jamela, female)
      beautiful (handsome)
      [Jamelle Bouie is an African American male writer for "Slate" magazine.]

      Shani , female, Swahili
      ["Shani" was the name of a Black doll that was marketed in the USA in the 1990s]

      I know a young African American woman whose name is "Love" and I have a great neice whose name is "Beautiful". Also, I've known several African American women with the name "Joy".

  5. Here are three other parent affection/praise names that I've come across this weekend:

    Cherish-(a name that a young African American woman has)
    MyAngel - (a name that a young African American girl has)
    Gugulethu, means “Our Pride” in Zulu (nickname Gugu) - Gugu Mbatha-Raw, a Black (mixed race) British actress, who starred in a United States tv series "Undercover".

    When it comes to traditional African names, it seems to me that African Americans only choose names that meet our aesthetic tastes. Therefore, we seldom choose names with consonent clusters or names longer than three syllables, or names that begin or end in "u" or have the u sound prominent. So regardless of its meaning, the name "Gugu" or "Gugulethu" is unlikely to be used by African Americans.