Thankfully, I grew up with a core circle of family and close friends that thought my name was beautiful and not a big deal. The older I got, the less I cared about the negative (especially post-9/11) reactions I continued to receive about it. Then, in 2012, two key things happened:
1: We were blessed with Quvenzhané Wallis and her double whammy of otherworldly acting talent and amazing first name. I remember watching the Beasts of the Southern Wild trailer for the first time, becoming her fan about 60 seconds in, then seeing her name near the end and my love growing even more. I instantly went in search of information on how it was pronounced (I had a good idea about the last 2 syllables, shout to Zhané) and also instantly knew she'd face criticism in the court of public opinion over it. I never could've dreamed how much of a boss she'd be in handling said criticism. Seeing a girl introduced to the public eye so young with such a unique name stirred something inside of me.
2: I came across Warsan Shire's poetry and musings via Tumblr, long before Lemonade. I can't remember the first piece I read, but at some point that year, this excerpt from her poem Girls with Difficult Names appeared on my feed, and immediately after reading I felt like she'd pulled the words from my soul,
“Give your daughters difficult names. Give your daughters names that command the full use of tongue. My name makes you want to tell me the truth. My name doesn’t allow me to trust anyone that cannot pronounce it right.”
It exudes embracing what makes us unique and taking ownership of it, not letting the ignorance of others be of any concern to your own psyche and identity.
I knew that I wanted to start highlighting this concept in some way, but couldn't figure out how. Finally, I stopped overthinking it and realized that I wanted to do it in a way that reflected how I felt, by displaying the names in an elegant yet simple spotlight. Let their complexity show in full force, with everything else secondary. I decided to make the "everything else" just statistics about the name itself, with no meanings or origins attached.
There's more here about why I started the project, captured in the moment when I began sharing the series.
What was the process or the thinking behind the lettering for #gwdn?
The type for the names is set in a font called Zelda. I'm a work-in-progress letterer, so I decided to steer away from the hand-lettered route, although I did sketch some names in the early stages of developing the series. Many other fonts were in the running before I chose Zelda, but I really wanted the names to exude elegance, flourish and celebration, and Zelda checks all those boxes. Plus, it also comes with a wide assortment of built-in alternate characters, swashes and ligatures so that I could make each name even more unique and expressive. My favorite part of creating each piece in the series is testing out character combinations. Type nerd paradise.
The layout of the template that each name is placed within was another design aspect. I knew Instagram and Tumblr would be the primary channels that I shared the series on, so I went with square dimensions and kept it simple. There's several elements to configure within the space so that everything is digestible and has breathing room. I also knew that I wanted to brand the series with a wordmark/typographic logo, seen in the top right corner of each piece. The result is intentionally straightforward to further meld the ideas of simple vs. difficult.
How has this project brought you closer to becoming you?
#gwdn has helped me tap into more of my creativity and purpose. It's given me the courage to peek out of my introverted shell by giving me the space to share my perspective on something that matters deeply to me. I share #gwdn across several social media channels because I want to create awareness, even if only a few people see it and get it. The project can go on indefinitely, which is awesome. Right now I'm focusing on names of women that are in the public eye, but when I think about all the different difficult names out there in so many different communities, I want to feature them all.
What women, with difficult names, are currently inspiring you?
Predictably, all artists!
Solange. Her latest album is everything and she's a perfect example of the embodiment of a difficult name that has gone mainstream, but still at its core is difficult, beautiful and complex. Along with her sister's name.
Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. She's been a major inspiration of mine for years. Her portraiture contains so much truth and quiet strength. And I could go on forever about the necessity of her ongoing street art project, Stop Telling Women to Smile.
Toyin Ojih Odutola. Her work is unapologetically black, layered, contemplative and so rich. And I love how freely she shares work in progress and the process of making on social media.
Pay it Forward: who or what has recently changed the way you viewed a social/political/cultural issue?
My Grandmother's Lingo is a stunning interactive tribute to Aboriginal culture and language; as someone who has spent time in Australia and studied (albeit a small fraction) of Aboriginal history, I learned and was reminded of so much, by watching this and I didn't want it to end.