That's Her Name.

No, really.

This tall, striking, self-assured, motorcycle-riding woman is a schoolteacher with a master’s degree in higher education administration. Soon, she’ll start work on her doctorate.

All of her achievement came despite that smoky, carbonated name. And partly because of it. No one named Marijuana Pepsi gets lost in the crowd.

“Everybody I meet says this: You’re nothing like I thought you’d be,” she told me when we sat down for an interview in Beloit last week.

These days she goes by Marijuana Sawyer, the surname of her ex-husband from Georgia, where she spent 10 years before returning to Beloit in 2008 to fulfill a promise to make a difference in her hometown. She has a 6-year-old son named, mercifully, Isaac.

Sawyer’s mother, Maggie Johnson, picked her name. Her father objected but lost the argument. To this day, a lot of family members and best buds call her Pepsi.

“She said that she knew when I was born that you could take this name and go around the world with it. At the time as a child, I’m thinking yeah, right. You named my older sister Kimberly. You named my younger sister Robin,” Sawyer said.

As you may have guessed, her name invited a lot of unnecessary schoolyard cruelty, and the column also hints that her mother (with whom she lived in her adolescence before running away) was not the most stable parent in the world. The two no longer speak.



Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.
  • i only live a couple of miles from Beloit!
    that’s a cool name, but i can see where it would be a burden. it’s also pretty brave of her to keep it. i have a friend who recently changed her name legally since she hated her name (first middle and last).

  • I wrote about this not too long ago ( I was also fascinated by the fact that she did not change her name and was kind of empowered by it. While some think she’s foolish and really think her mom was being ridiculous, I like how she has tried to let her personality and actions define her instead of just her name.