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Essay: Say my name: Janaya

Written by on September 28, 2020


Janaya Britton, TSU student

By Janaya Britton

My name is Janaya–with a Southern “juh-” , a charismatic “-nye” and a peaceful “-yuh” . My name emerged from my grandmother’s dream of a young Black girl preaching whose name was either Janai or Janaya. The origin is Hebrew and it means “God has answered” or “God’s gracious gift”. This moniker was completely unplanned and unpredicted, but it was mine. Out of all of the names, I’ve always wondered why this one chose me.

Excluding my first grade phase of wanting to be called “Jade” in honor of my favorite Bratz doll, I had pride in my name and its meaning. Growing up, I envisioned my name belonging to a successful black woman or a woman who broke glass ceilings. Oddly enough, that is the kind of woman I wanted to become; I longed to see and read about women with complex names like my own.

Although I found the value and beauty of my full name, I soon realized that it was seen as unconventional; I couldn’t even find my name on a tourist keychain. People would bend and break their tongues trying to pronounce Janaya, yet it flowed off of my tongue like butter. Their constant straining and confusion followed up with asking for a nickname and I would reluctantly reply with “you can call me Jay”. Having to revert to a nickname was second nature; I became lazy and frustrated. Explaining and teaching people how to pronounce Janaya felt like a never ending tug-of-war and I eventually gave up the fight. I didn’t even give people a chance to try.

Because I allowed people to cut my name short, I noticed that I was allowing them to cut me short. I was so accustomed to the nickname that none of my peers connected my identity to my given name. It wasn’t until I became a student at Texas Southern University that I relearned the power of being Janaya.

 I started freshman year struggling with the concept of self-love for several reasons. I thought that I knew myself and healed fully, but I realized that I had so much more to learn. I made a conscious decision to let go of being “Jay” and embrace being Janaya again. I was no longer conforming for others’ comfort, even if it was just as simple as a nickname.

I regained confidence in myself once I reclaimed my name; I pushed my frustration aside and stood my ground without compromise. If someone slipped up, I would correct them. If someone tried to call me something else, I would remind them of my preference. I learned that my narrative and how I’d like to be addressed was something that I could control during that time.

In the media, there is not only a massive lack of positive representation of Black women but there is an immense pressure for us to modify and filter who we are, especially when you’re a part of the industry. My name tells the story of who I am and if I continued to allow people to cut my name, I would be allowing them to cut my greatness. Another huge part of who I am is my Blackness and I can’t embody it fully if I can’t say my unconventional name with pride.

If people can pronounce Tchaikovsky and Beethoven, then they can pronounce Janaya Britton.