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Woman named Marijuana Pepsi refused to change her name — now she’s a doctor

Believe it or not: she’s not a smoker.


Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck (yup, that’s her true name) graduated with a Ph.D. in Leadership for Advancing Learning and Service in Higher Education from Wisconsin’s Cardinal Stritch University in May. She wanted to demonstrate to the globe that she was able to create it in life, despite having a rather distinctive name.

“People make such a big deal out of it, I couldn’t get away from it,” Vandyck told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Marijuana Pepsi is her legal name — and no, she doesn’t smoke and she’s not a huge fan of soda.

After marrying her present husband Fredrick in 2017, “Vandyck” was added. The 46-year-old, who grew up between Chicago, Illinois, and Beloit, Wisconsin, says she used to wonder why her mother gave her such strange name (the names of her siblings are Kimberly and Robin).

“It makes it difficult sometimes,” Vandyck previously admitted to TODAY.


Her mom apparently believed her name would take her places. And in reality, she has gone places. Vandyck lives on a farm in Pecatonica, Illinois, with her husband (they have four children — her 16-year-old son, as well as three children and a grandchild on her husband’s side). In addition to teaching and running a performance coaching company, Vandyck started an annual scholarship award for African American students enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

But it’s not always been simple. Vandyck grew up constantly teased, particularly at high juniors. She was afraid when a roll call was made by educators.

“The professor takes participation out loud every single class, and as they slowly go down through the J’s, I’m just like it arrives here.’ Marianna? Marijuana?’ And all the learners turn to see who it is,” she said.

Vandyck used these situations to her advantage and wrote her thesis on the topic: “Black names in white classrooms: Teacher behaviors and student perceptions.”

For her dissertation, she spoke with other Black students who had unique names. They also opened up about those tense moments when teachers would pause on their names during roll call.

Today, she is proud to call herself Dr. Marijuana Pepsi. In a way, she thanks her mother, and she admits her name may have given her a sense of resilience.

“I’ve grown into my name because I am a strong woman,” she told TODAY. “I’ve had to be.”

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