There are many ways to spell my name. I’ve probably taught at least 500 people about the use of the accent, and how it turns the E sound into an A sound. If you can think of a similar sounding name, like Ashanti, or Shantelle, I’ve been called it. One kid called me Shontel Williams all throughout middle and high school. Shontel: a portmanteau of my name and Montel, after Montel Williams, a television personality that I am in no way related to other than the fact that we are both Black. The only celebrity I’ve known to have my pronunciation is Chanté Moore, an R&B singer most popular in the 90’s. Her career never really popped off. You know things aren’t going right when you delay the release of your album titled The Rise of the Phoenix.
You’d think unique names would be praised. “Oh wow, Shonté, what a beautiful name that is not that at all common.” Instead I get mocked for having a “weird” name, and Sophia # 56,100,398 walks around completely unmocked. Listen, I’m fine if I never find my name on a plastic necklace or tiny driver’s license magnet, but it would be nice if people would at least stop singing RuPaul’s “Supermodel (You Better Work)” at me whenever I introduce myself.
So how am I supposed to feel when I notice the popularity of a half-genie belly dancer, with long purple hair, and a ruby red two-piece, who shakes her hips back and forth, whips her hair against her enemies, and has a name like mine—maybe not spelled the same but pronounced the same way— named Shantae?
Shantae is a platformer starring a half genie of the same name. She can transform herself into animals, and use her hair as a weapon. As far as I know, Shantae is the first video game character to have the same name as me. There’s even proof that her name is said the same as mine.
I’ll be honest, I’ve never played a Shantae game before, but I do know a bit about its history. Co-creator of the game, Matt Bozon of WayForward Technologies, spoke to The Mary Sue about how the first game in the series commercially flopped. Bozon explained that publishers liked the look of Shantae, but doubted boys would want to play as a female character. Instead of changing Shantae into something that publishers would like, the team pressed forward with their original vision. The first game, Shantae, was released on the Game Boy Color in 2002, late in the lifespan of the handheld console. By the time Shantae came to the scene on the Game boy Color, the Game Boy Advance was already out, and Shantae did not receive much fanfare. Still, the game earned a lot of positive press.
The next game Shantae: Risky Revenge came out eight years after on Nintendo DSi. Slowly, the games, and Shantae herself, started to receive more views, more plays, and more praise. Shantae’s games started to come out a bit more regularly, with Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse out in 2014, and Shantae: Half Genie Hero in 2016, the later of which was released thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign. With a request of $400,000, WayForward’s kickstarter ended with $776,084. The woman who publishers once argued needed to be changed, has since become a mascot for WayForward.
Shantae and I both began underappreciated. Her existence, a mistake. My name, a joke. But she belly-danced through the hate. I’m probably being a little too sentimental in thinking that all people with a shawn-tay-esque name have to work extra hard just to succeed, but I know I am 100% accurate when I saw all people with shawn-tay-esque names do succeed in the end. The fifth game in the Shantae series is set to be released on every current console later this year. Shantae went from landing her spot on a dying console, to shining on every current-gen console, including Apple Arcade, an upcoming game-streaming service that will probably be ridiculously expensive! If she’s not a phoenix rising from the ashes, then I don’t know who is.
For all you Bethany’s, Adams, and Elizabeth’s out there, finding your name out in the world is as easy as looking up a bible verse.The chances of your name being religious, even if you are not religious, is high. What I’m saying is that I look forward to all you sinners named Abigail getting your comeuppance. But for us Shonté and Shonté-adjacent people, finding another one of us is special. It’s celebratory. All shawn-tay’s should succeed, and If I had to share a name pronunciation with any character, I’m glad it’s with a half-genie-belly-dancing woman.