What is the meaning of Dee changing her name to Wangero in ''Everyday Use''?

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karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "Everyday Use," we meet a mother and her two daughters. Mama still lives with Maggie in a small, poor town. Her other daughter, Dee, has gone off to the university and has, at least to her own mind, become more sophisticated and cultured. Dee changes her name to Wangero and has brought a man named Asalamalakim home with her. Dee's name change and return home brings up questions of culture: who "owns" it, and to what use it should be put.

Dee/Wangero returns home confident and self-assured. She explains that she has changed her name as a statement about her freedom and control over her own identity, in the aftermath of slavery. She was named after a grandmother, but Wangero asks her family, who the first "Dee" was named by or after? Dee insists that she could trace the origins back to before the Civil War, implying that slave owners named a slave ancestor Dee. Wangero does not want to continue that history. 

Meanwhile, Wangero also wants to take home her grandmother's handmade quilts. She claims that she can appreciate them more than her sister Maggie can. Wangero will hang the quilts as pieces of art. She is disgusted that Maggie will put the quilts to "everyday use," even though that is their intended purpose. Maggie, on the other hand, knows how to make quilts and appreciates the art form in a way that Wangero cannot. Because the story is narrated by Mama, who sides with Maggie, we feel that Wangero is snobbish and condescending. From Mama's perspective, Wangero's sudden embrace of African culture and disavowal of things related to her own family rings false. However, it is understandable to the reader that Wangero would want to claim power by deciding on her own name. 

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

By changing her name, Dee hopes to establish a new identity.

Dee assumes the African name of Wangero and now wears clothing that reflects African rather than American culture because she has embraced Cultural Nationalism. As part of this new culture, Dee rejects all that represents what she feels is an oppressed past. Part of this past is her name, which is traceable to an aunt named Dicie, who was called "Big Dee." She was named after other ancestors who would probably go back as far as the Civil War, the mother/narrator states. And, when the mother explains that the name Dee has long been in the family, Asalamalakim, Wangero's boyfriend, observes, "Well...there you are," implying that the name belongs to the former oppressors and should be rejected.

Dee's rejection of her own name is significant. By changing her name, she rejects not only her people's past history of enslavement and poverty, but she also repudiates her own family heritage. Although uneducated, the mother does not miss the significance of Wangero's repudiation. So, when her daughter asks for family heirlooms such as the butter churn and the quilts, the mother recognizes that Dee will not use them properly but only wants them for display. For this reason the mother gives the quilts to Dee's sister, Maggie. After all, it is Maggie who knows the history of the handmade quilts. Therefore, she will give these quilts fond "everyday use" and not just hang them somewhere.

currerbell16 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Names are important. For example, most people choose their children's names very carefully, seeking names that perpetuate a legacy and/or fit the child's personality. Children often grow up to shorten or even change their legal names to something that feels more like "them." So, it's important to consider how names impact a person's self-identity, as well as how others construct their perception of a person's identity based on a name.

In Alice Walker's "Everyday Use," Dee is a nickname for Dicie, a family name whose use can be traced back to the Civil War. However, Dee doesn't associate her name with family and belonging; she associates it with oppression and the loss of heritage. As an adult, after she's acquired an education, she renames herself Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo. Wangero is especially interesting because though she says that she values heritage and history - for example, asking for the handmade quilts - she distances herself emotionally from her family, and she wants the quilts so that she can display them, as if they're museum pieces. You might consider the contradictions Wangero embodies, as she is guilty of the very thing she accuses her mother and sister of: "You just don't understand...your heritage."