Go ahead and admit it. You looked at the name of my guest blogger and said, Sap-what?
Her name is Saptosa. And for years, she’s had to deal with people cocking their head to the side, scrunching up their eyebrows and saying, “What kind of name is that?”
The idea for this particular column came about when Saptosa submitted photos of her family for my Mother’s Day column. The pictures were so rich and beautiful. I asked her to send me the names of her parents and siblings. And her dad’s name is Newsville. Newsville!! A man named Newsville names his daughter Saptosa?
I immediately asked Ms. Foster to tell us how she got such an unusual name. She agreed. And her story is awesome.
Hi, My Name Is….
By: Saptosa Foster
Shakespeare wrote “What’s in a name?” in Romeo and Juliet over 400 years ago.
I’m forced to ponder this famous question on a daily basis.
Hi, my name is Saptosa. Say it with me: “Sap-toe-suh.” Saptosa Marginee Foster to be exact. Seems perfectly normal to me, but apparently the world thinks it’s unusual.
Every single day I’m asked what my name means.
I tell the short version: “Truth seeker.”
After which, the questioner assumes that this meaning is derived from some sort of East Indian culture or religion or African dialect – all of which is wrong.
My parents were just weird.
The long version of my name is an acronym that stands for “Search After Purity Truth Organizing Steady Attainment.”
The origin of my name has become family folklore. From what I’ve gathered, in the ‘70s, my parents were starry-eyed hippies who were passionately involved in a movement called the Universal Sanctum of Meditation (U.S.O.M), a spiritual following founded by my grandfather who was known as “Brother Ignatius.” (Stay with me here.)
My mom wanted to come up with a really creative moniker for her first-born, so she meditated and allowed the seven words of “Saptosa” to enter her subconscious.
My uncle says marijuana helped a lot.
“We were young and wanted to save the world through meditation,” my Dad told me. “We thought we were special people and wanted our child to have a special name.”
My parents were so successful at creating a special name that, to this day, there is only one “Saptosa” on the planet. Believe me, I checked. According to Lexis-Nexis, there’s a “Saptosa” registered in New York and one in Georgia – both are past and current residences; both are me.
The closest I’ve ever gotten to finding another name like mine was my fourth grade teacher, Ms. Caroline Satoda, a young Japanese woman who was very kind and smiled a lot.
Of course, I endured tons of teasing as a child. Over the years, my name has suffered all kinds of butchering – “September,” “Sap-uh-to-suh,” “Supposed-To,” “Toast,” “Halitosis” – the works. Not even me Mom pronounces it correctly. When she’s not calling me by my siblings’ names, she drops the ‘p’ and says ‘Suh-to-suh.’ I guess 33 years of saying the same name over and over will do that.
Still, I emerged from childhood fairly un-phased by the name-teasing. The ridicule actually made me appreciate my name even more, which is why I don’t encourage nicknames. Saptosa is enough, thank you.
I come from a long line of strange names. My dad’s name is Newsville. There’s my grandfather Ignatius. I’ve got my cousins Astroon and Sladie and my great-great grandmother Marginee, whose name I carry.
It’s probably no coincidence that they’re all Jamaican, a culture responsible for names like “Denzel,” “Delroy” and “Barrington.”
Then there are my four siblings, whose names get progressively simpler as you go down the line. My sister is Alepha. Her name comes from Aleph, in Psalm 119:1. My brother Soron’s name came from some junk mail that was sent to my Mom in error. My youngest siblings Cortney and Athena were given their names because “they just felt right at the time,” my Dad says.
As the lone Saptosa on the map, I can’t recall a time when my name has hindered me in any way, especially not in my career. I can’t say the same for the rest of the Shaniquas of the world.
In a 2003 study conducted by the University of Chicago, people with names like “Pam” or “Amber” got called back for job interviews 50 percent more times than applicants named “Lakisha” or “Shaniqua.”
No surprise there. We live in a prejudiced society that obsesses over all the wrong things. So does that mean black people should ditch “Laquan” for “Larry?”
Shelby Steele thinks so. “It’s a naïveté on the part of black parents,” said Steele, “to name their children names that are so conspicuously different than American mainstream names. It suggests to people outside that community who hear those names a certain alienation. Certain hostility.”
Dude, ever heard of a man named Barack?
Steele, an author and researcher on race relations (who also wrote a book last year hypothesizing why Obama could not win the presidential race), makes a point I’ve heard far too many times from far too many “educated” blacks. And it’s annoying.
Why should African-Americans compromise their creativity and identity to make others feel comfortable? Haven’t we assimilated enough?
There are times, however, when keeping it real goes wrong. I think most people would think twice before naming their child Marijuana Pepsi Jackson. But that’s exactly what this Wisconsin woman’s mother did. And despite a lifetime of jokes, questions and suspicious glances at her driver’s license, Jackson is a successful teacher with a master’s degree and a great sense of humor.
I think Shakespeare had it right. Names really aren’t that important. It’s one’s character, actions and intentions that define you. My parents taught me that. They showed me how to wear my name with confidence and pride. Their unconditional love, support and discipline made me feel like the world would love me just as much as they did. These are the tools that enabled me to accept who I am beyond the oddness of Saptosa.
I think an unusual name can make you destined for greatness. Just ask Oprah.
Saptosa Foster is a graduate of Spelman College. As a freelance writer, her work has appeared in The Source, Savoy, Honey, Vibe, Fader, The Ave, Creative Loafing, Complex and XXL. In 2005, she partnered with colleague Shante Bacon in a marketing/advertising/PR venture known as the 135th Street Agency.
In her spare time, she bakes cupcakes, rescues stray cats and spoils her two nieces silly.
Dear readers: Where do you stand on unusual names? Do you think names like Shaniqua and LaKisha should continue to flourish? Is it just a part of Black culture to give our children colorful names? Does it matter? Do you have an unusual name? What about your children or siblings? Do you believe that your name can impact your career? I’d love to hear from you…