What’s in a Name? Are You Okay with Racial Slurs?

The Girl Guides of Canada announced recently they’d be changing the name of the Brownies division which is for girls ages 7 and 8.

Many people who’ve loved the organization for years are concerned and tsk tsk’ing the name change, but I don’t know if they’ve actually sat down and thought about it.

In recent years we’ve seen the evolution of recognition, growth, and understanding in the names of sport teams, schools, or even streets.

The original intent behind the words don’t really matter if the times have changed and it’s deemed marginalizing, racist, sexist, or simply in bad taste. There’s been some outcry, but there’s also been understanding and acceptance for the changes too.

The idea behind any society, and therefore an organization within it, is inclusivity and the garnering of a sense of community, safety, and belonging.

If a group has a name that mocks, shames, or sidelines specific people, then we need to look at it and see if we can modernize it to fit the current climate in which we live.

Think of a weight loss group for example. Would you want to attend a meeting called Chubbies? or Fat Girls? Or would you want your green eyed kids joining a club called Blue Eyes Only? And don’t forget about religious slurs. People would be up in arms if a name seemed to slur their religion or their political affiliation. 

Perhaps you’d be okay with it, but many don’t want to be called such names or be singled out for difference that they have no control over or that challenges their personal held beliefs.

So why then is it okay to expect an entire section of our population to live with things that are insulting or degrading. No, it’s not about being too sensitive, it’s about dignity and acceptance. Does that make sense? 

You may ask yourself, what does any of this have to do with the Girl Guides of Canada, and you wouldn’t be alone. But I’m asking you to now stop and think. 

Brownies are a group of little girls at an impressionable and accepting age. They take things at face value but they also mock and tease without too much understanding or awareness of consequences.

If a person is not of European descent, then chances are their skin is a shade of brown. Imagine a little brown girl who is proud of her heritage, as she should be, joining a group that seemingly mocks the color of her skin. She’s not aware of the history and nor should she have to… the fact that she’s now standing there being called a “Brownie” has a different understanding and connotation to it for her. 

According to Wikipedia, “Brownies [were] originally called Rosebuds, [and] began in 1914.” The girls didn’t like the name Rosebuds and as a result the new name was adopted from a book called The Brownies by Juliana Horatia Ewing in which two children learned to be helpful to those around them. In this context, “Brownie” was a folklore fairy.  

While it all seems innocent enough and the name contains no ill intent, it now has a different meaning that is hurtful, judgmental, and racist. That is the nature of language, education, and progression. 

The Girl Guides of Canada, which is a popular group for women and girls, welcomed trans children into the organization and prides itself on embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

Brava GGofC! Thank you for not being afraid of change and for taking a stand. 

Oh, and just for those who inevitably ask… do we now need to change the name of a brownie square that we eat. The answer is no. Go and eat that brownie. It’s an inanimate thing meant for dessert. Brownie’s, on the other hand, are the name and reflection of individuals. within a collective…. not okay–especially for that little 7 year old brown girl. Can you see the difference? I hope so. 


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2 thoughts on “What’s in a Name? Are You Okay with Racial Slurs?”

  1. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. I was a proud Brownie back in the day but you are absolutely right the name does have derogatory meaning in today’s society. Change the name to be totally inclusive!

    1. Hi Lauren. I so agree with you. The connotations of words change over the years and we need to have the courage to change with them. Thanks so much for commenting. xo

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