[Latest Revision - July 21, 2021]
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".
The content of this post is presented for historical, linguistic, and cultural purposes.
All copyrights remain with their owners.
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 three probable theories for how the name "Keisha" was created.
"Keisha" is a form of the Biblical female name "Keziah".
From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keisha “Keisha”... is a female given name claimed to be of Hebrew origin, from Keziah. [retrieved July 9, 2019]
From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keziah: [retrieved July 9, 2019]
“Ketziah Hebrew: קְצִיעָה Ketziah (Greek: Κασία—Kasia, Hebrew: קְצִיעָה) 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.” [end of quote]
The name "Keziah" is sometimes spelled "Kecia". "Keziah" is pronounced "kez- EE-ah", "KEZ-ee-ah", or "Keh-ZEE-ah." Also, this YouTube video indicates that "Kecia" is pronounced "kah-shah": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fi36QvADQLQ.
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". Read Theory #2 and Theory #3 in this pancocojams post.
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 daughters 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 variation Kizzy appears among free black names: 1800-60."
Here are two quotes about the name "Keisha" and its variants among African Americans:
from https://lithub.com/keisha-vs-kate-on-discarding-and-reclaiming-a-name/ "Keisha vs. Kate: On Discarding and Reclaiming a Name" by Keisha Bush, Feb. 1, 2021
..."Keisha, and its various spellings, was a name synonymous with the black American hood. Kisha. Keesha. Kyeshia. Takisha. Nakisha. Mokeesha. Lakisha. Akisha. Makisha. At one point in my life, I knew about 12 other Keishas. I once became friends with a woman named Keisha because her father called out her name in my apartment building lobby and I answered him. I have a cousin named Kisha. My neighbor across the street, the one who was pregnant when I was born, named her daughter Lakisha."...
when it was time to put my name on my debut novel, I hesitated, afraid that people would think less of the story because it was written by a black American woman. I’d dreamed of my name gracing the cover of my books one day, just like Toni, Maya, Jamaica, Junot, and Zora. But I had grown doubtful—and as a new author, the stakes are real. White writers whose first books don’t sell well get second chances. Black authors don’t.
But ultimately, a conversation with my editors reminded of a time when I was extremely proud to don my name. It was during time while I was still living in Senegal when, after meeting a few American sailors on shore leave, in downtown Dakar, one of them remarked that just hearing my name made his day.
“We’re a dime a dozen,” I laughed, rolling my eyes.
“My closest homegirl back home is named Keisha,” he responded. “Look, Keisha’s have got your back no matter what. Everybody needs a Keisha in their life.”
I had never looked at it that way, and it made me happy that
I could offer members of our military a sense of home, so many miles away."...
"Keisha" and other similar names were formed by combining the prefix "Ke" or another prefix and the suffix "isha", "esha", or "iesha".
I believe that the most popular "iesha" name among African Americans (as of 2021) is the female name "Aisha" (Arabic/Swahili meaning - "life").
Here are some examples of African American female names that have the element "iesha":
"Treemonisha (1910) 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 in that 1910 opera
"Monisha" - (the name of) Treemonisha's mother in the Scott Joplin opera mentioned above
"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"..
"Starrkeisha "- a comedic fictional character developed and performed in multiple YouTube videos by African American Cameron J Henderson. Note that "Starrkeisha" is a Black female (with a small beard) who is performed by a male. The first YouTube Starrkeisha video was in 2011. Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2016/06/the-starrkeisha-cheer-squad-petty-cheer.html for one of several pancocojams posts about "Starrkeisha".
For what it's worth, I have never known any females with any of these names. Nor have I read of any females with these names other than articles associated with these music, television, or internet products.
The female name "Keisha" could have been created as a name whose spelling -if not its pronunciation- 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.
The female name "Aisha" was fairly well known in the late 1960s and 1970s among afro-centric African Americans (Muslims and non-Muslims). And it appears to me that the name "Aisha" remains relatively common among afrocentric and non-afrocentric African Americans.
A form of the name "Aisha" probably influenced the selection of the name "Iesha" as the title of this 1990s R&B song by Another Bad Creation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDPIK7Fz_g4.
Another "isha" female name that is also relatively common among African Americans is the Arabic/Swahili name "Maisha" (pronounced my- EE-shah"). "Maisha" is usually given the meaning "life" ("full of life"). However, since at least the 1980s, the name "Keisha" and its variants such as "LaKeisha", "Kesha", "Kisha", "Keysha" are far more common among African American females than the Arabic?Swahili names"Aisha" and "Maisha". It should also be noted that the names "Keisha" ("Kesha"), if not "LaKeisha") are also given to non-Black females in the United States.
"Starrkeisha" is the name given to a comedic fictional character who is a Black female but has a small beard. That character was developed and is performed by African American Cameron J Henderson. The name “Starrrkeisha” is a play on African Americans’ familiarity with the name “Star” and the name “Keisha”.
The first "Starrkeisha" video was published on YouTube in 2011. Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2016/06/the-starrkeisha-cheer-squad-petty-cheer.html for one of several pancocojams posts about "Starrkeisha".
For what it’s worth, although I’ve known Black females with the name “Star” and Black females with the name “Keisha” (or one of its variants), I’ve never come across anyone with the name “Starrkeisha”.
A TIMELINE FOR THE USE OF THE NAME "KEISHA" AND SOME SIMILARLY SPELLED OR PRONOUNCED NAMES AS A GIVEN NAME
Birth names of some female celebrities given in chronological order with racial identifiers)
This list is of real people and not fictional characters.
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."
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keisha_Lance_Bottoms "Keisha Lance Bottoms (born January 18, 1970) is an American politician and lawyer who is the 60th mayor of Atlanta, Georgia. She was elected mayor in 2017. Before becoming mayor, she was a member of the Atlanta City Council, representing part of Southwest Atlanta."
"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."
PANCOCOJAMS EDITOR'S COMMENTS
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.
"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.
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]
This concludes Part I of this series.
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