‘Black Panther’ star Danai Gurira didn’t know her real name till she was 5

Danai Gurira writes about her heritage in a new Glamour essay. (Christopher Smith / Associated Press)
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In “Black Panther,” Danai Gurira’s name is Okoye. On “The Walking Dead,” it’s Michonne. And in real life? Well, for a long time the actress wasn’t exactly sure.

The self-proclaimed “Zimerican” — a salute to her dual heritage — was born to Zimbabwean parents in Iowa, where her nickname quickly became Dede.

When she was 5, she found out she was actually Danai.

“As a typical little girl with cool cred to uphold, I wasn’t too into this other name. It sounded weird the way my mom pronounced it, her African cadences freely flowing, her tongue pulled to the back roof of her mouth as she said the first syllable like a d, but not really, her mouth wide as she pronounced the a and i at the end of this strange new designation,” she writes in a new essay for Glamour.

The family — mom and dad are academics — moved back to Zimbabwe, but it took years for Gurira to accept her given name. Once she was an adolescent, the world changed, she said.

She took her mom’s native language, Shona, out for a test drive from time to time, realized heritage was to be celebrated not denied and truly became Danai Jekesai Gurira. Hence a “Zimerican.”

“That choice has affected every choice I’ve made since — the stories I tell, the characters I play, the activism I embark upon,” she writes.

“It has influenced everything from plays I write … to portraying a general of an African king’s army in ‘Black Panther’ to co-founding the nonprofit Almasi Arts, a Zimbabwean American dramatic arts collaborative.” – Los Angeles Times