When the actor Thandiwe Newton announced last week that she’d be reverting to the original spelling of her name, I felt some recognition. The journey her name has taken over three decades will strike a chord with many African and other non-western diasporas who have encountered the difficulty Anglophone countries have with accommodating foreign names.
While shooting Flirting (Newton’s first feature film) in 1991, the director decided to give her character her own name, Thandiwe. But in the film’s credits, Newton the actor was listed by her anglicised “nickname”, Thandie, to avoid confusion – this was done without consulting her. From then on she was known professionally as Thandie Newton.
Perhaps she knew the spelling and pronunciation of Thandiwe would be too troublesome for Hollywood. Perhaps Newton didn’t feel powerful enough to correct it. As a Black woman in an overwhelmingly white industry, it was her job to assimilate its standards.
In an interview for British Vogue, Newton has now declared of Thandiwe: “That’s my name. It’s always been my name. I’m taking back what’s mine.”