In the story "Everyday Use," why does Dee change her name to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo? 

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dee is Mrs. Johnson's attractive, popular daughter. Maggie has been burned in a fire and has since always been shy and awkward. There is a clear distinction between the two girls here. Although Dee is mentally more quick than Maggie, she (Dee) turns out to have a shallow grasp on what is meaningful. 

Dee goes off (to college) and returns with Hakim--a barber who addresses her mother and Maggie with "Asalamalakim." Evidently, Dee has attempted to remake herself into someone more in touch with her heritage. This attempt to remake herself has likely emerged with Dee's exposure to the Civil Rights Movement, part of which pushed for equal rights for African-Americans and a more militant push to re-appropriate African-American identity or Black Nationalism. Unfortunately, Dee has made this a materialistic, insincere transformation. She changes her name because she wants people to know she has made this transformation. All of her gestures in support of this transformation are superficial. Dee is more concerned with words, names, and displays of her heritage. In fact, Dee comes back to the house looking for items to display in her house as if she were an old white European museum curator.

Maggie would use the quilts for the purpose they were made: for everyday use. Dee would display them on the wall rather than honor her heritage by actually using them. Although Dee (Wangero) does make an effort to learn more about what African-American identity is/can be, she does it in a completely superficial way. She even implies that the value of the quilts is monetary. She places more emphasis on the quilts than the people who made them. 

"But they're priceless!" she was saying now, furiously; for she has a temper. "Maggie would put them on the bed and in five years they'd be in rags. Less than that!" 

"You will just not understand. The point is these quilts, these quilts!"