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Girl Guides of Canada renames its Brownies after members share experiences of racism

The Brownies branch of the Girl Guides of Canada will now be known as Embers, which will use this crest, pictured Jan. 9.
Girl Guides of Canada
The Brownies branch of the Girl Guides of Canada will now be known as Embers, which will use this crest, pictured Jan. 9.

The Girl Guides of Canada has renamed its Brownies branch after current and former members said the name caused them harm and prevented or delayed their decision to join.

Embers — the new branch name for 7- and 8-year-olds announced on Wednesday -- signifies "potential that's just waiting to be unleashed."

Jill Zelmanovits, the GGC's chief executive, said both girl and adult members have been open to the name change, which was made with their input beginning in November 2022. Members voted on the two finalists — the other was Comets — and Embers won "overwhelmingly."

The new name should be used immediately, and it will be adopted across all Girl Guides platforms and merchandise by September. Members are asked not to wear clothing with the name "Brownies" after Sept. 1 when representing the organization.

"This wasn't just about a name or its origin. This was about the fact that girls experienced racism and felt that they weren't welcome in Girl Guides," Zelmanovits said in a news release.

The Girl Scouts of the USA also has a Brownies membership level, which is for girls in second and third grades, or about 7 to 9 years old. In a statement to NPR, a GSUSA spokesperson said the organization is "currently evaluating all aspects of our program to ensure alignment" with its pledge to become an anti-racist organization but did not say specifically whether it is considering a similar name change.

The spokesperson also said GSUSA supports its sister organizations, including the Girl Guides, "in making decisions that best reflect the wellness and intentions of their communities and, most importantly, girls."

The century-old name "Brownies" came from English folklore and refers to fairies that aid, unseen, in household chores.

Canada's Girl Guides said the name change is unrelated to the origins in folklore. Rather, it was made based on the fact that past and present members who were Black, Indigenous and other people of color said the name made them "feel extremely uncomfortable, prompted teasing and racist comments and was a barrier to feeling that they belong at Girl Guides."

Some families signed up for the Girl Guides for the first time because of the decision to change the name and become more inclusive for their daughters, Zelmanovits said in the release.

This isn't the first time the more than century-old organization has evolved to eliminate barriers for girls from marginalized groups and diverse backgrounds. In 2015, the Girl Guides of Canada formally welcomed transgender girls and in 2019 introduced a new uniform with members' input.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Kaitlyn Radde