Her mother gave her a unique name, thinking it would serve her well. Indeed it did. Marijuana Pepsi went on to get a doctorate, becoming Dr. Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck — after doing her dissertation on unusual names.
In her recent dissertation at Cardinal Stritch University in Wisconsin, Black Names in White Classrooms: Teacher Behaviors and Student Perceptions, she found that people “with distinctly black names” faced disrespect and low academic expectations, affecting their career choices, self-esteem, and economic opportunities, NPR reports.
Her own name created some challenges in school, she told NPR, noting that white teachers often assumed her mother “was smoking marijuana and drinking Pepsi” when she named her. “In the black community, we’re used to having names that are more cultural.”
She said she has asked her mother many times about how she got her name. “She just shared that she felt a kinship with me and she felt like this name would take me around the world.”
Marijuana Pepsi's mother told her that her birth name would take her places. She was right. https://t.co/ubpwCEqUoY
— NPR (@NPR) June 23, 2019
As a young girl, she thought her name was special. “Marijuana was just a beautiful name,” she said. “I received accolades.” But later, as she grew older, she was made “very aware” that her name was different, she told NPR, as kids teased her.
Some white teachers would call her Mary, even though she preferred her real name, she said. “I think they wanted to make me feel more comfortable. They could see what the other children were doing, and they were trying to smooth the way and make things easier for me.”
She said her distinct name has made her proud, and she would never think of changing it. “We can’t always go through life changing things to make other people happy … and I had to learn that early on.”
Read the full story at NPR.