US & Canada

Dr Marijuana Pepsi: The woman who refused to let her bullies win

Dr Pepsi Image copyright Dr Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck

A woman who refused to change her name has defied her bullies by earning a PhD and becoming a doctor.

Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck says she spent her life being made fun of because of her distinctive name.

But instead of changing it she decided to be proud of the name she was given and refuse to let it hold her back.

The 46-year-old has used her experience to research black names and how they affect the education of children in the United States.

Recalling that first conversation as a child with her mum about why she had been named Marijauna Pepsi, she says: "My mother told me that your name will take you around the world.

Image copyright Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck
Image caption Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck with her mother Maggie (Brandy) Johnson

"At the time I thought, 'come on', but I know my mum, she's smart, she's a genius and I trusted she really believed that."

Marijuana was nine years old when she first realised she had an unconventional name. At school in Wisconsin she says it wasn't just the other children who commented on it but the teachers, too. "Tell them your name honey," they'd say.

"Marijuana is unusual and then you add Pepsi to it and the comments just didn't stop and they still don't stop" she told the BBC.

"They would ask to call me Mary, and at first that was fine until I won a school spelling bee. I came home with my certificate, and my mum hit the roof when she saw the name on it read Mary Jackson.

"She told me never to let them call me Mary ever again and then she went up to the school and demanded they change it. She wasn't playing."

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But in high school the inquisitive questions about an unusual name turned into hurtful comments. "When I was in fourth grade it was an oddity, but in high school it became bullying.

"It gave them ammunition, and I had to put up with so much. One day I decided that's it I'm not taking it any more," she says of her bullies.

Marijuana says her family gave her the strength to cope with the comments and change her attitude.

Last month she received her PhD in higher education leadership from Cardinal Stritch University in Wisconsin following her dissertation, "Black names in white classrooms- teacher behaviours and student perceptions".

Image copyright Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck

"Even though I had issues with my name I had never given much thought to how it might affect others" she says.

On the first day of term while working as a teacher, she recalls a colleague complaining to the principal after seeing a list of the students she would be teaching that year.

"I'm asking the others what happened and they were like, 'Marijuana look at the names, it's the names, she can tell from the names she's got the black kids', and it clicked and I thought this is ridiculous, I'm going to write about this."

She is now married and living with her husband and son in Illinois, working on a programme to help college students.

"We're human, when we first hear a name, we form opinions, and judgements. It's the next thing that one does that makes a difference."

A full interview with Dr Pepsi will be aired on BBC OS on Tuesday 25th June at 1600BST (1500GMT)

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