Being memorable

Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck PhDThe young lady here — well, she’s twenty years younger than I am, anyway — could be memorable for how she looks, which is marvelous; how she busted [name of vital organ] earning a doctorate, which is laudable; or how she stuck to her gums, which is the subject at hand today:

A woman who refused to change her name has defied her bullies by earning a PhD and becoming a doctor.

Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck says she spent her life being made fun of because of her distinctive name. But instead of changing it she decided to be proud of the name she was given and refuse to let it hold her back.

The 46-year-old has used her experience to research black names and how they affect the education of children in the United States.

I’m guessing that black children with distinctive names have a tendency to catch all manner of flak from people who really need to calm down, be they classmates, teachers, or neighbors, though this isn’t something with which I have first-hand experience, since I didn’t actually attend a desegregated school until grade twelve. (If you’re keeping score, this was 1968.) I admit to having had entirely too much fun with some NBA types, particularly Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who brings out Declension Fever in yours truly; I couldn’t tell you what Kentaviousness entails, but dammit, he makes twelve million a year, and I do hope he’s having a great time.

And I’ll bet Caldwell-Pope was never told he ought to change his name, either:

Marijuana was nine years old when she first realised she had an unconventional name. At school in Wisconsin she says it wasn’t just the other children who commented on it but the teachers, too. “Tell them your name honey,” they’d say.

“Marijuana is unusual and then you add Pepsi to it and the comments just didn’t stop and they still don’t stop,” she told the BBC.

“They would ask to call me Mary, and at first that was fine until I won a school spelling bee. I came home with my certificate, and my mum hit the roof when she saw the name on it read Mary Jackson.

“She told me never to let them call me Mary ever again and then she went up to the school and demanded they change it. She wasn’t playing.”

For now, “Doctor Vandyck” works fine.


  1. fillyjonk »

    22 June 2019 · 4:11 pm

    One of the things I hope to do is to register no surprise or discombobulation if I ever get a student with a name like that. (Or any other unusual name).

    I remember looking up a native Portuguese speaker I knew when I saw I had a student from Brazil, named João, so I could get the pronunciation right before classes started.

    Then on the first day, he told me, “In the US, I have people call me Johnny.” Logical, I guess. I also knew someone in grad school named Pratumtip who went by Tip because she said too many Americans had had trouble with her name.

  2. McGehee »

    22 June 2019 · 7:29 pm

    All I know is, if my mother had contrived to give me a first name that led to taunting, my name for her forever after have been “What The Hell Were You Thinking!?”

    As it was, the name-twisting I got was on my surname which, you may notice, had no detrimental effect on my esteem for the name.

  3. CGHill »

    22 June 2019 · 7:41 pm

    About 1992 I took a phone call from an established Vizsla breeder using the kennel name “Nyircsaszari.” I have no discernible command of Hungarian, but I bluffed my way through it: “near-cha-SAR-ree.” Apparently I was the only person in the corporation who ever got it anywhere near right.

    Odd town names also crop up: Sequim, Washington (one syllable, as though it were “Squim”); Versailles, Kentucky (forget the French, it’s ver-SAILS); and perhaps the battiest name of all, Battiest, Oklahoma (bah-TEEST).

  4. McGehee »

    22 June 2019 · 9:18 pm

    I thought I lucked out by hearing the name of the Wyoming town, Ethete, on the radio before I had occasion to try to say it. It being an Arapaho tribal community, turns out it doesn’t even come close to rhyming with “aesthete.”

  5. Roger Green »

    24 June 2019 · 9:31 am

    There have been studies done that suggest that people with clearly “black” names – think Laquesha or the like – have a more difficult time getting work. The naming of my daughter certainly factored in that phenomenon.

  6. CGHill »

    24 June 2019 · 10:22 am

    I don’t doubt it. What baffles me is that white folks generally seem to take Latino names in stride, even the ones they can’t spell: “Jorge” throws a lot of us.

    Oh, well, we can learn if we try, though I may have to practice a bit with, say, Quvenzhané. (I tend to put the accent on the third syllable; it belongs on the second.)

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