Picking a name for your child is one of the most important decisions parents make, but for a couple in Rio hoping to give their daughter an African name, it’s also one of the most difficult to pull off.
According to the blog Black Women In Brazil, anytime a baby is born in the South American nation the baby’s name must be registered with officials. Although it seems like a simple process, when Jéssica Juliana and Cizinho Afreeka tried to register their newborn daughter’s name, they were turned down.
The problem? Afreeka and Juliana wanted to name their daughter “Makeda Foluke,” a name that celebrates the couple’s African roots. But officials at the registration office said the baby girl’s name made “no sense at all” when pronounced in Portuguese and “could provide possible future suffering for the person in social life.”
Little Makeda’s parents think the real reason their daughter’s chosen name was denied is racism.
“It’s a form of racism that takes place in Brazil: the racism of subtleties,” Afreeka said. “It should be very natural a man and a Black woman adopting an African name, as the country is made up of three races. It is difficult to prove. Only those in this skin is knows.”
Registration officials insisted racism wasn’t the problem, it was the name. Apparently, whenever a child is named, officials have to assess whether or not the name can affect the child later in life, which leads many parents to choose European-sounding names.
“The procedure is necessary with any name that can be used to leave the child in a vexatious situation or bullying. You have to filter. These procedures are normal, no one refused to do the registration,” Luiz Fernando, a civil registration official, said. “It is not the name, not the meaning. It’s pronunciation, diction. Racism is really in people’s minds.”
In spite of officials claiming “racism is really in people’s minds”–and despite tons of evidence racism is still very much alive in Brazil–officials suggested the couple give Makeda a more European-sounding first name and use the African-sounding one as her middle name. However, little Makeda’s parents aren’t having it.
“It’s not a name phonetically alien to Portuguese, we thought about it. There are African names that change the pronunciation and cause greater estrangement,” Juliana said. “We decided together quite in early in the pregnancy and we came to call her Makeda. Family and friends already speak naturally because we were inserting this. What’s the problem with naming her Makeda if they register so many European names?”
After being denied by officials, little Makeda’s parents will have to appeal to a judge to see if they can officially give her an African name. But if things don’t turn out in their favor, Makeda’s parents said they’re still not changing their mind.
“I will keep on until the end,”Afreeka said. “Either it will be Makeda Foluke or she’ll be with no registration.”