There are few names in the world as famous as Beyoncé. But there’s a lot more to the multi-platinum-selling artist’s one-word moniker that you probably didn’t know. Sure, many people know that her given last name is Knowles (now Knowles-Carter since marrying Jay-Z). And fans likely know that Beyoncé’s middle name is Giselle. But recently, Queen Bey’s mother, Tina Knowles-Lawson, opened up about the origins of the name Beyoncé. It turns out, its meaning is much more complex than you might’ve imagined.
“A lot of people don’t know that Beyoncé is my last name. It’s my maiden name,” Knowles-Lawson revealed on a Sept. 15 episode of the podcast In My Head With Heather Thomson. “My name was Celestine Beyoncé, which at that time was not a cool thing to have that weird name. I wanted my name to be Linda Smith because those were the cool names.”
Knowles-Lawson, who’s of Louisiana Creole ancestry, was the youngest of five born to Lumis Albert Beyincé and Agnèz Deréon. And as she grew up, she soon noticed some of her siblings had different spellings of their last name. “All of us have a different spelling. I think me and my brother, Skip, were the only two that had B-E-Y-O-N-C-E,” she explained. The other siblings’ last names were spelled like her father, Beyincé.
When Knowles-Lawson asked her mother why their names were spelled differently, she said simply, “That’s what was put on their birth certificate.”
“So I said, ‘Well, why didn’t you argue and make them correct it?'” Knowles-Lawson recalled. “And she said, ‘I did one time, the first time, and I was told, ‘Be happy that you’re getting a birth certificate,’ because at one time Black people didn’t get birth certificates.”
According to Knowles-Lawson, “They didn’t even have a birth certificate because it meant that you really didn’t exist. You weren’t important. It was that subliminal message. And so I understood that that must have been horrible for her, not to even be able to have her children’s names spelled correctly.”
Knowles-Lawson has previously spoken about the Beyoncé vs. Beyincé name situation. In April, she posted on Instagram that “Beyincé and Beyoncé are pronounced the exact same way. It is five Beyoncé children that my daddy had. Only the first three had the same spelling, Beyincé—me and my youngest brother had Beyoncé on our birth certificates. So however they spelled it on our birth certificate is how we spelled it also. But it is all pronounced the same.”
However, her interview with Heather Thomson, a former cast member of Real Housewives of New York, was the first time she shared the racist meaning behind the misspellings. And for more words whose history is racially charged, check out 7 Common Phrases That You Didn’t Know Have Racist Origins.