NPR reports the unusual story of Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck, a woman who spent years being mocked for her name. Now, she is a doctor with a Ph.D. in higher education and just completed her dissertation, Black Names in White Classrooms: Teacher Behaviors and Student Perceptions. Fittingly, it focuses on the theory that people with “distinctly black names” face different perceptions and expectations, which impacts their career choices, relationships, and self-esteem.
Vandyck claims that during school, her name created the strongest reactions from white teachers.
“A lot of other people were thinking [my mom] was smoking marijuana and drinking Pepsi. In the black community, we’re used to having names that are more cultural.”
But Vandyck says her mother chose the name simply because “she felt a kinship with me and she felt like this name would take me around the world.”
Although Vandyck claims she became very aware of the strong reactions and unusual nature of her name as years went by, she doesn’t take any snide remarks personally.
“I don’t believe that anything that anyone has said to me is really intentional and that they’re deliberately trying to hurt me,” she said. “We all hear things that make us look twice.”
Vandyck does, however, believe that acceptance is important, and inquiring about an unusual name in private — without being condescending — is helpful. She adds that unusual reactions are normal, but it’s about “what you do after you recognize that you have this feeling about it. And it’s what you act on from that point on. That’s the most important part.”
Despite the uphill battle, Hollywood Life reports that Vandyck is very successful. She reportedly works full-time at Beloit College as director of a program that helps people face struggles such as disabilities or financial difficulty. In addition, she owns Action as Empowerment, a performance coaching business that aims to help people make positive changes in their lives. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s also a real estate agent.
Although Marijuana Pepsi is definitely a unique name, The Talko reports that there are plenty of strange names in the world of celebrities, including Moxie Crimefighter, daughter of Emily Zolten and Penn Jillette; Apple Martin, daughter of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin; Pilot Inspektor, the son of Jason Lee and Beth Riesgraf; Strummer Newcomb Cook, son of Julia Stiles and Preston Cook; River Rocket, son of Juliette Norton and Jamie Oliver; and Bluebell Madonna, daughter of Geri Halliwell and Sacha Gervasi.