Why changing my name was and still is important

I changed my preferred name from Shanice to Chebet on the 6th of July, 2014. I know because I wrote all about it the next day on my former blog (which will never see the light of day again😂). In the blog article I cite Hugh Masekela’s ALA speech, this post and a Spoken Word event I attended at the Market Theatre the day before as the events that led to me deciding I no longer want to be referred to as Shanice. However, looking back I think this name change was more a culmination of the journey of reclaiming my Afrikan identity by decolonising my thoughts and culture.

This personal Afrikan renaissance journey looked like many things. I cut off my relaxed hair to start my natural hair journey. I began wearing more afro-centric clothes and beaded jewellery. I unapologetically embraced myself as an afrikan, maasai, kalenjin and kenyan womxn as well as the skin and features I came with. It was also the beginning of feeling the need to tell my stories in the form of poetry and blogging because they mattered too. My point of view also changed from not expecting much of my community and continent to truly being hopeful of our capabailities. It was all a beautiful unlearning of what I had been conditioned to disregard about my Afrikanness. The African Studies classes we would have as well as the state of sharing space with people from different countries on the continent; some of whom had also dropped their non-afrikan names enabled this journey. As I aptly said in this speech, ”  if Chebet (referring to my afrikan identity)  was a masala tea bag, ALA would be the hot water that brought out my afro-centric essence.

It is laughable how simple I thought changing my name would be. In the moment all I thought about was how I wanted to hear people calling me Chebet or Naserian. Most of my people made real effort. The school even acknowledged the name change. However, I had not thought about the certificates, passport and contacts that still had the name Shanice. Let alone all the people I had met who had only known me by Shanice. I don’t even think I had thought of my parents who had for twenty years called me by Shanice (this is still a challenge)! I changed my email and on LinkedIn I have put Shanice as my former name. I usually introduce myself to people as Chebet Naserian and when I am feeling courageous enough I will correct someone who calls me Shanice.

It is important that I clarify that I have nothing against the name Shanice . On the contrary, I quite like it. I like its meaning which according to google means the same as Jane which means Gracious Lord. And I have experienced God’s grace in so many ways. I also love that my mummy named me after one of her favourite musicians. In fact, sometimes I refer to some aspects of myself as Shanice. Not like in that movie Split where the guy had 24 alter egos, though. I only have three🙈. For me It is an exercise that helps me reconcile all the cognitive dissonances and multiplicities that exist within my being. While my creative self, as in this blog, is Chebet Naserian, Shanice is the more conventional version of myself. If I were to think of it in terms of the goddesses in every woman, as discussed in this personality hacker podcast, she would be Athena. I think Shanice is the one that will get me through this white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. What I have issues with is that my having an English name also represents the enduring legacy of colonialism.

Someone questioned the necessity of my name change by citing Afrikans like Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela who achieved greatly whilst maintaining their English names. My response to that comment was hurt at feeling misunderstood. With hindsight I think they were trying to say that ultimately, it boils down to what you actually do more than what they call you or see you as aka your identity. I partly agree in that there are definitely more pressing issues affecting the continent. Poor governance. Poor infrastructure. Gaping inequalities. Gross human rights abuse…They are many and they may arguably make my discussions and insistence on loving myself as I am and demanding that I be called by my Maasai and Kalenjin names secondary.

However, I think that most times what we do stems from identity. I think that the root causes of some of these issues are deeply ingrained in how we view ourselves as Afrikans. Do we want to live in our continent? Do we believe we are deserving of dignity? Do we believe that we deserve to be treated like human beings? Do we see ourselves as equal to our former (current, really) colonisers? Do we believe in our homegrown solutions? Will we buy products made by us? Do we trust services offered by us? Do we care enough to serve our continent?   Do we believe in ourselves? I think the answers to these questions lie in our identity. In how we perceive ourselves and as a result navigate this world. It is my conviction that numerous solutions for our continent’s issues lie in the true knowing of ourselves.

I acknowledge that knowing ourselves looks like different things for different people. For me, it looked like reclaiming my Maasai and Kalenjin names and with it my Afrikan identity. A process that is not only the drive behind my learning of the Maasai language or my inclination to buy more clothes and accessories from Afrikan designers but also my purpose. Embracing my identity as an Afrikan womxn is helping me answer the following questions: Who do I want to work for? Which sectors do I want to work in? What impact do I want to have as a quantity surveyor? What stories do I want to tell as a blogger? What started as me cutting my relaxedhair, wearing more afro-centric clothes, telling my stories and wanting to be called by a different name, has developed and is developing into something greater.

I would like you to know that whenever you call me Chebet Naserian, you remind me of my why; of where I come from; and of ways I want to serve. Now, over to you. I would like to know what Afrikan identity means to you. Did you ever feel like you had to reclaim your Afrikan identity? What are some of the ways you have reclaimed your Afrikan identity?

Feel free to comment in the comment section or under my instagram tv post on here.

Not the name I have to google meanings for
Not the name my Gogo and Guca have to twist tongues for
Not the name they needed my ancestors to have to get baptised 
Not the name they find easier to pronounce
Say you who was born at noon in the bright of light
Say you who  brings peace and goodness