In honor of Black History Month, this installment of Feminist Names will focus on black women who've made great strides in the movement. In Famous First Wave Feminists, I included Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells, two early fighters for suffrage and equality. Let's look at some twentieth-century activists (in no particular order).
bell hooks, 1988, via Wikimedia Commons
She described herself best - "black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” - and wrote many influential works on racism, sexism, and homophobia. Though she was born Audrey Geraldine Lorde, she dropped the "y" from her first name to achieve "artistic symmetry" with her last. Choosing the Audre spelling would be a great way to honor this icon while maintaining relative ease of pronunciation; though Lorde has also been recorded for girls!
A civil rights activist and mentor for the Little Rock Nine, Daisy Bates also worked as a journalist and in political organizations against racism and poverty. While Daisy is currently in the top 200, naming your little one after Bates is far from trendy. Another option is Daisylee (Lee being Bates' middle name), a pretty Southern-sounding pick.
Though she was born Gloria Jean, bell hooks chose to take her pen name from her grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks, but kept it lowercase to separate the two identities. She is known for her focus on intersectionality and postmodern perspective on race, class, and gender. Today, Bella reigns in popularity, but Bell is a beautiful and crisp choice that hasn't ranked since 1915.
Known for The Color Purple, Alice Walker is a novelist and political activist with a career spanning from the early 1960's to today. Though Alice is another name on the rise, Walker's novel characters may provide further inspiration: Celie, Nettie, and Henrietta. Walker is also a great choice for either gender, fitting in with the surname trend.
An advocate for education, literacy, and equality, Dorothy Height also advised political leaders throughout the 1950's and 1960's. She was most recently honored with a postage stamp bearing her likeness in November 2016. Though Dorothy is used more in the UK, it's a classic, attractive name that offers excellent nickname possibilities for girls today - Dot, Dottie, and Thea among them.
The first African-American woman elected to Congress, Shirley Chisholm was also the first black candidate to run for a major party presidential nomination. Though she retired from Congress in 1982, she was active in education and civil rights promotion until her death in 2005. Shirley may soon return to name charts if the 100-year rule proves true, and it's a friendly and feminine choice.
Fannie Lou Hamer
A leader in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and a political and social activist, Fannie Lou Hamer also released an influential album of spirituals and civil rights' anthems, called Songs My Mother Taught Me. While the name Fannie has some issues in the English-speaking world, long form Frances or middle name Lou are both underused, stylish options.
Born Marguerite Annie Johnson, she was called Maya by her brother ( for "My-a Sister") and it stuck. Maya Angelou is well-known for her poetry and memoirs of a complicated life throughout the civil rights movement and subsequent decades; when she passed away in 2014, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings became the #1 best-selling book on Amazon. Both Maya and Marguerite are gorgeous names, with the latter still outside the top 1000.
Scholar and radical activist Angela Davis no longer teaches at universities, but her speeches and work on feminism, social issues, and political activism continue to inspire audiences today. Today, her words are especially relevant: "Radical simply means 'grasping things at the root.'" The name Angela is on the decline, but variants Angelina, Angelica, and Angelique are fabulous options.
Lawyer, civil rights advocate, and feminist Florynce Rae Kennedy championed intersectionality and reproductive rights, and is remembered for her outspokenness and radical protests. Though she was better known as Flo, Florynce may appeal to modern parents who like the "y" trend combined with an elegant English standard.
Coretta Scott King
Though many remember her as the wife of Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King was an author and activist in her own right. She's now referred to as the "First Lady of the Civil Rights Movement," who worked tirelessly for equality and peace for over fifty years. With Cora in fashion, elaborate Coretta could definitely take off as both an honor name and an update of a classic.
A leader in intersectionality studies and a law professor at UCLA and Columbia, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw is a current source of inspiration and knowledge for activists and feminists today. Like Audre Lorde, Kimberlé is missing the expected "y" at the end of her name, making it simultaneously more memorable and more likely to be misspelled. Still, she is a fantastic potential namesake!
Here are links to helpful articles about these and other black feminists:
10 Black Feminists/Womanists Everyone Should Know
14 Black Female Activists You Must Know
27 Black Women Activists Everyone Should Know
4 Famous Black Feminists You Never Learned About in School
14 Books That Should Be On Every Black Feminist's Bookshelf