say it: Tah-fuh-kah-ree…

That’s how you pronounce my name. But before you can really say it, feel it.


I was born a little black girl with an unwieldy name that weighed more than my 3 lb 11 oz body. My mother anointed me with the Swahili name Tafakari because someone told her it meant “brown sugar.” I am sweet, surely (curtsies). But Tafakari never, ever meant brown sugar in Swahili.

Say what now?!
Say what now?!

It didn’t matter, because, imbued with doubt over saddling me with a name more native to a Kenyan, she chose something less not-American. I grew up hiding Tafakari in the shadowy confines of my middle initial. I would lie and tell people that my middle initial T stood for acceptable black girl names–Tamika, Tanisha, Tanya. Anything but the alphabet soup that floated in their mouth when I told them the truth.

Say it slowly: Tah-fuh-KAH-ree

Around the time I got to college, something changed. I read poets like Amiri Baraka, Sania Sanchez, Audre Lorde, and Haki Madhubuti, who voluntarily transformed their given names into Africa’s image. I revisited Tafakari, my name-in-name-only, and found that it meant: to reflect.
And then I had to smile at the ways God brings meaning to life.

I am a child of God who stumbles but strives to reflect Him.

I am a carbon copy of my mother who named me, whose imprint on my life is indelible; I reflect her love like iridescence.

I am an over-thinking, pensive being who, before she opens her mouth, reflects

And after spending the entirety of my life wrestling with the name Tafakari, I came to realize that it truly reflects my personality and the woman I’ve become.

To honor my ancestors; to honor the intrepidness of a woman who braved American disdain for Other to name me what her heart whispered; to honor the beautiful meaning of a name hailing from a continent to which my very my skin pays homage:

I am Truly Tafakari.