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

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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."