Thursday, July 17, 2008

C.Y.I.N. CaseStudy: What's In A Name?!?

Sitting at the doctor's office with AverageToddler the other morning, I overhead another parent trying to summon her child.

"Come here, Sha-Vaughn-Dray!!!"

I had to do a triple-take. What the heck sorta name is ShaVaughnDray? Maybe I couldn't really comprehend the name cause you know how DC folks are with their accents and whatnot. Still, I couldn't help but think about this poor kid and the years of misspellings and mispronunciations his bright future would likely hold. And part of me wondered why the world she couldn't just call him Andre.

Many will argue that names don't make the (wo)man. Others would say that names are pretty darned important. I guess I fall somewhere in the middle.

I've got a very, very, very common government name. It also happens to be my father's name, but it's pretty darned common. Over the years I've tried dressing it up by using different variations of it, as well as adding or dropping letters (no, seriously), but reality is the name's the name.

And there's nothing wrong with that of course. The name's got history. I'm named after my Pops, and since I obviously admire him immensely, that's always been a huge source of pride and motivation to carve my own niche in this world. My brothers (although they're older) were named after older family members. Each of us carried our names forward, and bestowed them upon our firstborn sons. So, it's become a roundabout family tradition, one that I'm quite proud of.

If it were up to me, I'd create a new Man Law. Every man would have to name his son after himself, no matter how inane (in my case) or outrageous (ie: that NFL player named D'Brickashaw) it may be. Because there's just something really special about being a Jr., II, III, or in the rarest of cases, IV. Again, just my opinion.

That said, although I wouldn't do it, I guess I understand why people name their kids things like ShaVaughnDray and D'Brickashaw. Because beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, and who the heck am I to tell someone that Marqueeshiah or Shenehneh isn't beautiful? They could just as easily look at me and say "John" is boring and unimaginative, and is some strange way, they'd be right.

The only real downside to these somewhat crazy names would be when the child has to someday attempt to get a job. That's where the unfortunate side-effects of gettin' cute with a name can come back to bite him/her in the butt. I'm sure this is hardly new-news to any member of AverageNation™ but having a "black" name can cost you when those HR folks are browsing thru resumes.

Two recent papers from the Cambridge-based National Bureau of Economic Research draw somewhat different conclusions about whether a black name is a burden. One, an analysis of the 16 million births in California between 1960 and 2000, claims it has no significant effect on how someone's life turns out.

If nothing else, the first paper, by the NBER's Roland Fryer and the University of Chicago's Steven Levitt, based on California birth data, provides probably the most detailed snapshot yet of distinctive naming practices. It shows, for instance, that in recent years, more than 40 percent of black girls were given names that weren't given to even one of the more than 100,000 white girls born in the state the same year.

The paper says black names are associated with lower socioeconomic status, but the authors don't believe it's the names that create an economic burden.

Using Social Security numbers, they track the changes in circumstances of women born in the early 1970s who then show up in the data in 1980s and '90s as mothers themselves. The data also show whether those second-generation mothers have health insurance and in which Zip Codes they reside - admittedly imperfect measurements of economic achievement.

The data do appear to show that a poor woman's daughter is more likely to be poor when she gives birth herself - but no more so because she has a distinctively black name.
So, one study says no real correlation between name and eventual outcome. But another study contradicts that to some degree.
The other, however, suggests a black-sounding name remains an impediment to getting a job. After responding to 1,300 classified ads with dummy resumes, the authors found black-sounding names were 50 percent less likely to get a callback than white-sounding names with comparable resumes.

The University of Chicago's Marianne Bertrand and MIT's Sendhil Mullainathan, however, appeared to find that a black-sounding name can be an impediment, in another recent NBER paper entitled "Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal?"

The authors took the content of 500 real resumes off online job boards and then evaluated them, as objectively as possible, for quality, using such factors as education and experience. Then they replaced the names with made-up names picked to "sound white" or "sound black" and responded to 1,300 job ads in The Boston Globe and Chicago Tribune last year.

White names got about one callback per 10 resumes; black names got one per 15. Carries and Kristens had call-back rates of more than 13 percent, but Aisha, Keisha and Tamika got 2.2 percent, 3.8 percent and 5.4 percent, respectively. And having a higher quality resume, featuring more skills and experience, made a white-sounding name 30 percent more likely to elicit a callback, but only 9 percent more likely for black-sounding names.
Of course, no "study" is perfect, but I guess it's some minor food for thought.

Either way, it doesn't really matter to me. Life will prolly be harder for a black kid than a white kid in America any way you dice it, regardless of whether that kid's named Lawrence or LacKquan. And besides, a recent study also showed that education aside, blacks who merely "sounded black" were likely to be lesser compensated than blacks who "sounded white".

No, really.
Blacks who “sound black” earn salaries that are 10 percent lower than blacks who do not “sound black,” even after controlling for measures of intelligence, experience in the work force, and other factors that influence how much people earn. (For what it is worth, whites who “sound black” earn 6 percent lower than other whites.)

Grogger asked multiple listeners to rate each voice and assigned the voice either to a distinctly white or black category (if the listeners all tended to agree on the race), or an indistinct category if there was disagreement.

Then he put this measure of whether a voice sounded black into a regression (the standard statistical tool that economists use for estimating things), and came up with the finding that blacks who “sound black” earn almost 10 percent less, even after taking into account other factors that could influence earnings. One piece of interesting good news is that blacks who do not “sound black” earn essentially the same as whites.
So there you have it. You're darned if you do and darned if you don't. So name your child LayQuittria or BeYonDray all you want. Just make sure you teach them the joys of code-switching, no matter what.

Cause a name is truly a just name. But soundin' white is always right.

Question: Do you think a name is truly "just a name" or a self-fulfilling prophecy? Should parents give more thought to exactly what they're calling their kids? If you have an "ethnic" government name, do you think it's ever hurt your employment prospects? What's the weirdest (and I'm not talkin' "ghetto" here) name you've ever personally heard?

'Black' Names A Resume Burden? [CBS]

How Much Does It Cost You in Wages if You “Sound Black?” [NY Times]

Previous Editions of C.Y.I.N. Case Study []

60 AverageComments™:

Phil Davis said...

Jews changed their names in order to fit in. They dropped the stein and the witzs from their last names. They did not want to get stopped at the door when they said what their name was.

We gave our kids good government names that have been in the family for a while. We don't want our kids stopped at the door either.


ebw-educated black woman said...

I have a fairly common name (not so much for a sister, but for an AWG-average white girl). When I show up at interviews, I always get the "you're ****?". Always. They are always surprised I'm black. I've even been told I sound like a white girl on the telephone. *rolling eyes*

Anywho, my mom has an acquaintance that has granddaughters named-get ready for it:
Tijuana and Juantia.
I also once met a young lady named Tequila. Maybe that's what her mother was drinking when she concieved? I often wonder why people do this to their children.

Yesterday I had a gentleman drop off his resume for consideration for a job. His name was JaeShoun. (Pronunced J-Shawn) You should have heard our ig'nant HR director bungle his name over and over again. (I think she was being funny, because this is one of the less exotic names that have come across our desks.)

SingLikeSassy said...

Oddest name I've heard? Razor Sharp.

My name is fairly common and doesn't mark me as black or white nor does my maiden name or married name.

Mr. SingLikeSassy has Muslim names (his dad was a practicing Muslim, my husband has not followed the faith in several years) and he wants us to give our daughters names like Ilyasah and Qubilah. Won't happen.

I think what's worse than the made up names are the regular names people try to make "special" by spelling them strangely, such as Jaxson and Siouxhan.

Bonnie said...

What up AB?

I have three daughters with fairly common names for today. My first daughter is Sydney and our last name is Irish based. I am sure when she goes for an interview they are going to be expecting a Jewish Irish man instead of the tall black woman that will come through the door.

I find it amusing when people name their kids after objects - Mercedes, Porshe, Krystale, etc.

ebonygentleman79 said...

I had a kid in my high school with the first and middle names of "Kunta Kinte".


The dude didn't finish school.

I also graduated with a girl named Porscha (Porsche). She had 2 babies, and working on a third when we got our diplomas. Talk about FAST!

Thank God my mom named me after the Bible and actor LeVar Burton....not his 'Roots' namesake. BIG UPS, MA! Reading Rainbow forever!

I have a rule about this. If the child can't bubble in their full names on the SAT in 90 seconds or less....the name is TOO LONG.

Did you know that you get 200 points on the SAT just for BUBBLING IN YOUR NAME?

It's true. I took two SAT seminars, and the instructors said this at each one.


nia said...

The problem with many of today's "ethnic" names is that they have no meaning. You don't just give your child a name because it sounds cute or is a distorted version of a European name.
Your child's name should always have a meaning and significance attached to it.
Whenever you or someone calls your child by its name they are affirming that meaning and thus affirming your child's place and significance in this world. So they shouldn't abbreviate it either because they may find it too difficult to pronounce.

The weirdest thing I heard was a woman who wanted to call her child "Malaria". Apparently she heard or saw it written somewhere and thought it sounded cute. She didn't know that malaria was actually a disease.

hawa said...

I have an unusual name: Hawa.

I find that it's more of a conversation piece. It means "Eve, giver of life" (as in Adam and Eve).

Although the name is common in Africa and India, many seem to see it as more exotic than ethnic (which is why it may be better-received than the unusual Bo-keisha kinda "ethnic" names).

One of my sons has a name that I find more common in the black community (Darius). The other got a straight common name (Robert).

I do believe names are important. One African couple from our church explained that in their culture, the name is so important that grandparents and other elders name each baby to ensure strong meaning and significance.

And if you're a Christian, the Bible is loaded with text about name importance - and folks receiving name changes to match their stance in life. (e.g. Jacob, Saul, Sarah, etc).

WNG said...

My cousin named her girls Ryann and Rhamsei because she was thinking ahead as to how women and men's resumes are looked at differently and she wanted the girls to have a fair shot (as much of a fair shot as Black girls can have).

I have an extremely Scottish first name with a Gaelic spelling (from Mama G's side of the fam) so people are at the very least expecting a white guy and not a Black girl to walk in the room. The shock on their faces is pretty damn funny sometimes.

nia said...

Hawa, the reason why your name is better received is becausen unlike many of the so-called ethnic names of today, your name actually has a significant meaning.
In some African cultures there is even the belief that if you give your child the wrong name, the child can become ill.

The Dark Angel said...

Names have had meaning since the beginning of mankind. Now we assign names based on how it "sounds" itstead of it's meaning. The truth is, a name only has as much meaning as YOU GIVE IT. But understand this, like it or not, YOUR NAME CAN AFFECT YOUR CHANCES OF GETTING A JOB.

Jews and Asians have changed their name when they come to our country for fear of lost opportunity because they understood this. Coporations change the name of their foreign customer service reps to sound more American. Interviewers's wrong...but's true.

Weirdest name: Apple

Ciara said...

Obviously, my government name (Ciara) is more common now than it used to be, even though there are may variations of the spelling. People have trouble pronouncing it.

My brother, father and late grandfather (RIP) have the same first name, so there's a tradition an I love that.

I don't hate on people's choice of what they want to name their child. It's your decision but I can't help but think that Michael would get the interview before De'Andre because of assumptions.

Ezra said...

I teach Puerto Rican teen moms so I hear a lot of baby names that have English and Spanish pronunciation within the name which is confusing.

Disjuan = dye-zhwan
Jay 'oni = jay-ah-nee
Or cringe-worthy names like: Diyalis "dee-ya-lees" (Short for Dialysis?? The mom's name is Sharika. (I'd shriek too if my daughter's name was dialysis))

But who am I to criticize? We just named our son Marzden Meteor. My students think I'M nuts. At least he won't have to use his middle name for interviews.

Ezra said...

I teach Puerto Rican teen moms so I hear a lot of baby names that have English and Spanish pronunciation within the name which is confusing.

Disjuan = dye-zhwan
Jay 'oni = jay-ah-nee
Or cringe-worthy names like: Diyalis "dee-ya-lees" (Short for Dialysis?? The mom's name is Sharika. (I'd shriek too if my daughter's name was dialysis))

But who am I to criticize? We just named our son Marzden Meteor. My students think I'M nuts. At least he won't have to use his middle name for interviews.

the uppity negro said...


That's interesting, I was in Philly last week and I swear this mother was calling her kid Jay'oni.

But, against AB's grain, I'm pulling straight from a chapter from "Is Bill Cosby Right?" from Dyson. First of all, I got a lifelong friend who couldn't spell "Christopher Michael" for the LONGEST. Till like 3rd grade almost. So, I don't think he had it any worse than the Shatonqua's.

However, black folk sho' get amnesia when it comes to names. I would say that if many of us go back and ask our older aunts and parents and grandparents what their parents or cousins or their aunts names were, you'd get some weird sounding names as well--we just chalked it up to "country."

Now we call it "ghetto."

Seriously, I got an aunt named Hynesia, Shelvia (although I've heard that one recently recycled), a great-grandmother named Jansia, but a first cousin who named her daughter Daizha (pronounced Day-jah).

I personally think it's bunk logic to say that black folks should name their children something that has a meaning behind it. A name only has meaning behind it because we ATTRIBUTE the meaning behind it. Furthermore, using that as an argument against names that generally come out of black and Latino communities screams assimilation into westernized thinking. Essentially what that argument is saying that because it's of European descent it has meaning, but because I thought of it myself, I'm incapable of defining the name for myself. I also think it buys in to the hype and it destroys our own cultural creativity that we've practiced since we arrived here in this country. Black folks have been making up names, and combining names for quite some time now, why stop now.

I guess it's just the downside of being black, if like my friend Jatavian La'Rae, I may not get a call back even though I'm highly qualified. But, AB, I think you hit it on the head, the chances of us getting a fair shake in the first place were slim to none any way. (And as far as my internship is going out here in the urreah, I'm sick and damn tired of "sounding white!" I gave that up about a few weeks ago. If I came off as "sounding black" oh the hell well!)

But, I have a list of names that I think are quite creative, and next to them their place of origin.

1. Tuboris (from Meridian, Miss.)
2. Jatavian (from Shereveport, La.)
3. Patience (from Chicago, IL)
4. Abrisala (sp?) (from Nashville, TN)
5. Jamontae (Atlanta, GA)
6. Kyi (Chicago, IL)
7. Brionne (Chicago, IL)
8. Cheronda (Chicago, IL)
9. Tomaseena (New Orleans, La)
10. Andranecia (Dallas, Tx.)

And trust me, the list could continue, but yes, my good friend Tuboris and Jatavian are among the top of interesting sounding names.


TalentedTenth said...

I think the most interest name I came across when I was in school was Sugarr Hill (don't forget the 2 R's...kinda like Megan Goode as Beautfull in You Got Served)!!

nia said...

@Uppity Negro,
I agree as you rightly said that Black folks have been making up names, and combining names for quite some time now. But these practices have all been since the days of slavery and that is why I particularly feel that we need to question what we do and why. The very fact that we have been doing something for "quite some time now" is not in and of itself a reason to continue.
My argument is not that because the name is of European descent it has meaning. In fact, that is the opposite of what I am saying. European names rarely have a proper meaning. In fact, that is why I personally argue for African names because these names, if you actually look into them, truly have meaning and a purpose for the child's life.
What does "Sha-vaughn-dray" mean? or "Malaria"? Is it a name that grounds our children today in any historical / social reality? With African names - there is nearly always a reference to God in the name or a reference to the purpose which the parents would like the child to have in life. That is absent in Westernised societies.

the uppity negro said...


Well, we'll have to agree to disagree. Reason being, I'm not in favor of changing tradition just to appease dominant culture, especially a culture that has had a long list of not understanding, nor appreciating that which is our own culture.

I consider myself pretty Afro-Centric, definitely more than your average black person walking up and down the street, but as much as I like that idea, I just don't think it would sell. Ebony and Jet published a book back in the early 70's with African names, and that's when we started seeing the rise of the Jamals and the Muhammad's (along with Muhammad Ali as well) and those other African sounding names like a Safeesha or something.

The reason I don't think it would sell is because far too many black folk will quickly say "I aint no Afi-can," and a few who would add "I'm black" or painfully, "I'm a nigga."

@ AB

Totally random: But should we expect a post about the NFL's recent press release about gang signs getting thrown up on the field...echoing the sentiments of what happened with Paul Pierce back in the NBA season?


Symphony said...

Most interesting name I came across was in high school when our student council had Christmas parties for kindergarten classes of two under served schools. Her name was TooPrecious.

While my son does have a more "traditional" name and I'm not fond of outrageous names (whether they are TooPrecious or Scout Larue, ala Demi Moore's daughter or Pilot, ala John Travolta) I am not for naming children to adapt to White people's standards regardless of the resume issue.

Anonymous said...

Barack he the exception to "the rule"?

texasladybird said...

I used to hate my government name; I was named after my father, but I'm not a Michelle. My mother got creative and gave me a name that's French.

This woman also wanted to name me Penelope.

But I'm older and have grown into the name. It gets butchered all the damn time, but whatevs.

I'm a big believer in names have a meaning behind them. If I have a son, he will be named for my late brother, a daughter will have my mothers middle name and so on.

Weirdest name:


spool32 said...

Code-switching is certainly key... I appreciate that you threw in there the results from white people "sounding black". My parents worked strenuously to prevent us from sounding like rednecks, and I often get "You don't sound southern!".

I passed my middle name on to my eldest... it was my father's and grandfather's first name, my middle, and now my son's... our initials are the same as well. That has some meaning for us, certainly... all the other kids have some family history attached to them, including the youngest, who has 4 names including one from his oldest ancestor on his mother's side, a viking named Rurik.

Strangest name? I was in a jazz band with a great sax player named Ronshonda, but the oddest by far were siblings Abc (pron. ahBEEsee) and C'de (pron. sa'day).

Backwoods northern Louisiana has some odd folks.

Symphony said...

I can't forget the people who name their kids after ESPN. I'm as much a sports nut as anyone but damn.

Hank Nasty said...

I'm all for cultural expression, but at the end of the day, we live in a Eurocentric society. If you want to have more than a fringe existence in this country, the task is made much easier by having a less distinct name. Its not right, but that's the way it is.

Monie said...

If a Black woman had made-up the name Jane she would be criticized and the name Jane would be categorized as ghetto.

The point is that this debate isn't really about names but about everything Black being wrong and everything White being right.

America's national pastime isn't baseball it's making fun of Black people. And we, Black people, are as big an offender as anyone else.

Our hair is made fun of, how we speak is made fun of, where we live is made fun of, how we name our kids is made fun of, the list just goes on.

Maybe one day we will accept ourselves in all of our many forms and quit using a White standard to judge ourselves.

Instead of us not naming our kids the names we choose because some racist White person in some HR Department may throw our kids resume away, maybe we should let White people worry about why they are racist.

Dark & Stormy said...

My parents gave me a traditional Arabic name that has a meaning associated with royalty. It is clear when you see my name on paper that I am not of European descent but my last name is clearly a standard slave name (i.e. Smith or Johnson) therefore I'm sure any potential employer would make the assumption that I am a person of color from America.

My mom told me years ago that she regretted giving me the name she did because she was afraid that my name would be regarded in the same discriminatory manner as ShonDray or the likes. These names were not as popular during the decade I was born as they became in the decade to follow.

Sometimes I have contemplated listing my name on my resume as First Initial, Last Name. But I could never bring myself to actually do it. I am proud of my name and anyone who wishes to judge me by it can kiss my a**. I do think it affects my employment prospects at times, but so be it.

Weirdest name I've heard recently is Shanendoah (a male's name).

Jamerican Muslimah said...

How's this for size? A family friend married a guy whose name is Killer. HIS REAL NAME. Why would anyone name a Black male that kind of name? *Sigh* I really want to sneak my nosy self over to their house one day and "casually" drop the information about name changes.

Which brings me to my second point. A name change is always an option if people need or want to. Much to my mother's chargrin, I legally changed my name after I became Muslim. Which is another story...even though my name is from the Arabic language because of the spelling most people think I'm Indian when I show up for a job. Do I think my name is an impediment when it comes to hiring? Yes, it can be.

Huntdaddy said...

Great post AverageBro!

About 10 years ago, I had this same conversation with a good friend of mine and he gave me a perspective I never considered.

He said to me that we should embrace names like DeShundranica and Tyrondre as names that reflect our true Black American heritage. We are born of a creative, instinctual, and spiritual people and these names reflect our unique African and American lineage. And while most of us do not know what country we originate from, these names that we consider in poor taste actually give us our own cultural identity that we should be proud of. After all the struggles we have undergone to be the thriving people that we are, we deserve some cultural uniqueness.

First off, a name is a gift that parent’s give to their kids and one of the first lessons in life. Your name is the first card you are dealt in life and something that we do not have control over. This lesson is so important and we need to embrace it. And the lesson is, you do not have control of the cards that are dealt to you in life but you are in control of making your cards work for you. Everyone should wear their name with the same love and pride that the name was bestowed upon with; like a King or Queen.

You go to Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, etc you’ll find people with all types of names. As well, you’ll find people who work hard pronounce and accept those people and names….at least to a much higher degree than Americans. One of the unfortunate legacies of being American is that we are not very accepting of differences and we are not globally focused. Thus, we (Black Folk) shun names that are outside the very narrow bandwidth of Anglo nomenclature.

I am a recruiter by profession and I know name-ism happens when reviewing names resumes. I have even caught myself doing it. Over the years, I made every effort to properly pronounce the names of European, Asian, South Americans, etc. but not the names of my African American family. Man, that’s f*cked up. I would even go so far as to ask for nicknames for my peeps with hard to pronounce names. Yes, I was one of those fools that made the ‘Barack’s’ of the World go by Barry.

Not no more.

Another thing that disturbs me is how much we Black folks put an emphasis on how others perceive us. Who gives a f*ck what Brad, Duffy, and Stu, and Becky think about ‘our’ names. And why should parents think about interviews their children might have 20-25 years down the line when they are thinking about names. This shows how we as a people still have a problem fully claiming our heritage. We should tell our kids to embrace their names, skin color, big lips, nappy hair…just like we should tell them to embrace their intelligence, personality, humor, curiosity, and inner strength.

And instead of interviewing jobs, we should tell our kids to launch businesses….but that’s another story! We should be proud of who we are…and who all of our ‘cuzins’ are too. We don’t have to like it all but claiming our full heritage makes us stronger as a people.

I have one exception to this diatribe….I actually know a cat named Remy Martin. Now that’s just wrong…LOL!

Ezra said...

It's racist to not give an interview callback based on an ethnic sounding name, but there are stereotypically "hick" names: Bubba, Jed, Cletus or stereotypically "upper-crest" names: Maddison, Conrad, Lance, just like many names are stereotypically "ghetto." Thus there are consequences to choosing them. A "Winston McAllister III" wouldn't be my first interview callback! lol

Correct me if I'm wrong but I would imagine that people aware of unfair stereotyping tend to stay away from names they know are now stereotyped, regardless of their race, even though they are proud of their ethnicity.

Miriam said...

Many Jews keep their "private Hebrew names" for use only within their own circles. Like when they're called on to read the Torah or something or if they want others to pray for them.

THey carry two names. Hebrew name (like Hezkiyahoo or Batya) and whatever country name (Andre, or john)


Some say names are the essence of a person. That you can even change your luck by changing your name (like Abraham changing from Abram, etc)

AAW said...

I have a "unique" name. But folks never think I'm black over the phone. They've thought my name could be Asian, French but nothing from where my parents really came from - think one half of Barack Obama's parents.

It has not stopped me from achieving my dreams. Have there been a pause when some clients see me live? Sure. But that's their hangups not mine.

Anonymous said...

The parents may think it is cute but most of the time it reveals the ignorance of the parent. Ususally they are young mothers that don't know any better.

deedee said...

PREACH, monie!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
i could not have said it any better. THANK you!!!

Symphony said...

The difference between ghetto and exotic is the race. JonBenet sounds so exotic when coupled with blonde hair and blue eyes but it wouldn't be that way if she were a little Black girl.

the uppity negro said...

Here's a question, food for thought:

Growing up in Chicago, of course I ran into a LOT of Polish people with some VERY unpronounceable names.

Why is it that when we run into other non-Anglo Saxon names no one complains about the stupidity of the names or the fact that is VERY hard to pronounce, but when you run into Zayontashae, people get to complaining?

I'm just bringing it up.


Miss Gypsy Eyes said...

Wow AB, I've been on this subject for about a month now. I come from a family of educators, so when my Mom and aunt would get their rosters at the begining of the year they could just go down the list and pick out black, white, black, black, etc. That's bad enough, my mother and aunt are African American, but this dude in a Chinese restaurant asked my friends and I about why black people give there kids such odd names. I wasn't offended my daughter's name is gender neutral and there's no way you could guess her race. The comment came after my friend reprimanded her daughters Moriah and Camiya. I told him not to look at me and gave him my daughter's name. She was offended however, she got Moriah from the bible and she told him so, but the other one she just pulled out of her butt(and for the record they just call her Mya... why not just name her that?) and to give him his due he didn't smirk when she told him the other name. He just kept a straight face and winked at me as if to "say see what I mean."
My first name is fairly unique, it's japanese, and I've never understood why people want to make the "o" at the end of it an "a." So I've chosen to go by a shortened version that people are able to remember and pronounce correctly. I'm one of those people who is very annoyed by having my name screwed up; especially when it's only got 6 letters and the first two sets make up common words in the English language.
Do you think a name is truly "just a name" or a self-fulfilling prophecy? I think that a name is at times all you have, people place your credibility on your name and it's hard to escape that. People judge you based on first impressions and your name is usually what they remember afterward.

Should parents give more thought to exactly what they're calling their kids? Absolutely, even before college and jobs comes elementary school and a multi syllabic name that isn't phonetically correct makes it hard for a child to learn to spell and write their names and in some cases confuses them when it's time to learn to read. (ie anything ending in "ia" is pronounced "eeyah." Calling it "uh" is going to confuse the hell out of the kid when is learning phonics. My mom has had kids catch an attitude and correct her about the pronunciation of their names when in fact it's obvious that these mothers are at least partially illiterate.

If you have an "ethnic" government name, do you think it's ever hurt your employment prospects? Because my name ends in "o," I've had several people expect me to be a male. But otherwise it's about the first face-to-face impression, I code switch automatically so I come off the way I want to... even with the ink and the nose ring.

What's the weirdest (and I'm not talkin' "ghetto" here) name you've ever personally heard?
Kashmere (wtf? it's not even spelled correctly)
Neveah (it's just stupid- creative but stupid)
Jhonquitta... why?
Nasyrreh (NAZ-er-ay)
Devahntileh (DeVauhntelah)
I could go on but I'll end on that. Preaching to the choir here but people please think before you name your kids, it's not a good look to assure your child will be mocked and assumed less intelligent because you went bananas with silent letters who weren't meant to be silent in their name.

MissJay said...

Ah the name game. I have a name that sounds French, with an accent mark and everything. I've gone through life getting my name pronounced wrong to the point that I even answer to the incorrect way because I used to get sick of trying to correct people(that was in high school...but the others had my back though and would correct the teacher for me). It helps me figure out if the person on the phone knows me or is a telemarketer. ;) But I digress...

I believe it is wrong to judge but that's life. Yes our brothers and sisters get creative and sometimes come up with pretty names. But goodness I do feel sorry for those children when it's time to spell their name! I'm glad mine is only 5 letters.

Well the weirdest name I've heard are the ones that I read in the above comments. But I went to school with a guy named King and his sister was named Queen. Their mother later became an assistant manager at my company and her youngest son's name is Prince. She even told us the history behind their names. Her husband helped her give birth to their daughter, that's his Queen. She gave birth (by herself) to her 1st son, her King. And the youngest they didn't want to feel left out so he's Prince. It was an interesting story (of course she went into more detail).

Anonymous said...

I attended school with a guy named Geometry - which is actually a cool name.

Some of the oddest names that I've heard are Klaasje (origin: Dutch), Boomshika (origin unknown), Vagina (that's just wrong) and Steveynisha & Kusteveya (twins named after their father Steve). said...

Hey there AverageBro!

I worked at a place where the front receptionist was named "Shatonsenette" or something like that.

I once knew a colleague who tossed out ANY resume that had a first name that ended in any of these:

- ika
- cia
- ita
- anda
- que
- sha
- onda
- ette
- shae
- een
- ene

If a person was named after a car or an alcoholic beverage, their resume was also tossed in the trash.

The assumption is that even if the candidate IS educated, they are most likely straight out of the lower classes if their parents picked a 'ghetto' name for their child.

I am not saying this is legal but assumptions ARE MADE about the socioecononic class background of origin based on the name that people have.

{shaking my head}

Anonymous said...

My husband and I have had long conversations about this. We have decided to give our children names that may be considered more European. My sister chastised me for deciding to do this, but I feel as if we have so many hurdles ahead of us, so why add one more.

j said...

A friend of a friend is named Champagne (white girl), I've also met a Kunte (black) and a Davian (white- pronounced like Damien).

j said...

I knew a Lucretia when I was little and I assumed it was a "ghetto" name at the time, but it's actually ancient Roman like in "I, Claudius". Same thing with Portia before people adopted the automotive spelling.

hawa said...

I appreciate the point made earlier about learning how to say a person's name correctly (and the underlying value judgment that unique "black" names don't require such attention and care).

An African man named Tayo (just four dang letters!) leads our team at work. I noticed that every white person says his name Tay-oh. But his voice mail indicates that the appropriate pronunciation is Tah-oh.

As the only Black person on the team (and as a woman whose name gets destroyed sometimes), I take great care to address him correctly. It's like the others don't care - even tho they hear me say it correctly all the time.

nia said...

I agree 100% Hawa. People never bother to call the name properly anyway, and I think that's wrong.
At work we have a Ijeoma, and its always 'IJ', Ogeji is always 'Oje' and Kondwani is always 'KD'. Even though they have explained a million times how the names should be pronounced.

Anonymous said...

BTW, this anonymous posting is by your old neighbor from Rollingwood:)

Names are VERY important. I once saw a special on TV where kindergarten teachers put students who had ethnic sounding names in the back of the classroom. The kids had their names taped to the desk on the first day of school and sadly, the black children who had weird names were in the back.

I do say that anyone who goes through labor, stretch marks, etc should be able to name their child anything they want, but my great-uncle loves to ask, "whatever happened to Peter, Paul, and Mary." Just as one should be careful what they speak about their child or to their child (ie you are just like your daddy or you are just plain dumb), they should be careful when naming the child because a name is really the first gift (and a lifelong one).

At my grandmother's funeral, my dad gave some remarks and he said the best thing his parents gave him was a name, not an inheritance, not a car, etc. That statement stuck with me and I think it is relevant here, even though that's not how my father meant it. He was saying his parents gave him a family name that was not filled with scandal, debt, etc. Names are gifts and they can reflect heritage, they can be a prophecy, or they can bring shame. Hopefully, we will all think twice before calling our child Placenta (yes, I have seen that), Adrain (pronounced like Adrian) or Lexxus (because her mom wanted one, but couldn't afford one).

MissJay said...

So I forgot some names on the weird list. I know someone names Keonte and Alize (not spelled like the drink but still it's like huh?). I know another person names Kosage. It's a Native American name that means Winter.

CynthiaC said...

"I once knew a colleague who tossed out ANY resume that had a first name that ended in any of these:

- ika
- cia
- ita
- anda
- que
- sha
- onda
- ette
- shae
- een
- ene"

So this means Kathleen/Cathleen, Alicia, Yvette, Marsha, Amanda, etc...all names that are pretty much ethnic and class neutral...will have their resumes thrown out too. I guess this colleague should also add all y/ee/i names (e.g. Abby, Cindy, Jenny, etc) to the list, because they're probably ditzy.

I'd also like to give a different ethnic perspective. I'm of Chinese descent, with parents from Hong Kong. In my experience, anyone who was educated in a religious school and/or from middle class families will have both a Chinese name and a western name (almost all Biblical). This happens even after the families have left the old country and moved to Canada, Australia, Britain, the US, NZ, etc...Growing up, people have always been curious about my Chinese name, and really, the most they've asked is if the meaning is anything similar to "Cynthia." (nope, my Chinese name sounds a bit like Cynthia, but it has nothing to do with the moon. Cynthia has Greek/pagan origins, after all.)...So people don't generally think that non-European names have no meaning. I don't know where posters get this from!

The Pinto Bean said...

I have to say, this discussion really makes me sad. I am named Mercedes, and no, not after the car. It's a very traditional Latin name, a title of the Virgin Mary. I've also been out of work for three months, despite a long and accomplished resume. I guess now I know why.

Browne said...

I don't think your name makes a difference. I think this is part of the "behaving your way out of racism" bs game.

Maybe they'll call you back, but they won't hire you. As someone said once having a black sounding name is bad in getting call backs, imagine having a black looking face in the interview.

My name doesn't match my face. I sometimes wish I had a more black sounding name then I wouldn't have spent so much time on job interviews that used various excuses for me not getting the jobs such as, "you're so smart and talented, you'll just leave." I'm going on year eight of that at first I thought it was a compliment until I realized compliments don't allow you to pay your rent, even if you are talented, dropped 80k on a degree and had good grades.


Jennifer said...

The trouble I find with names like Portia and Lucretia - names that are Roman - are that they're being given to non-Roman (Italian) children. Same with Kosage. Lovely name. Is the child Native American? Unlikely. And I don't see a whole lot of white Portias and Lucretias. They always seem to be black. It's always black folks who want to reach to any continent, any language, any culture to name their children just because they like the way it sounds - and when all else fails, just make some shit up. Sweet merciful crap, when I worked with kids, it was so bad that I used to call all my kids by their last names, just to avoid having to pronounce such stupid, stupid shit.

I don't think a child's name says so much about him/her as much as the parents who gave said child the name. I *DO* believe 300% that the Shavaughndres of the world DO come from lower income, less educated households. Hell, I went to an HBCU and didn't meet a whole lot of Shavaughndres. That's not to say we didn't have any Portias or Keishas or Imanis - far from it. But there's a difference between having a "black" name and having a name that's nothing but ghetto French.

My name (and my voice) don't match my face, so as long as nobody is paying attention to the HBCU on my resume (because I will ALWAYS rep FAMU), then maybe - MAYBE - I'll have my foot in the door. But if they don't like black people, that won't change when I walk in the door, even if I graduated from Florida State or Harvard. So what I think is happening is that employers (of all races) go through resumes and see me and my name, with the HBCU education, and may take pause. "Oh, she's black. Well...maybe." But they see Jawakatima La'Dion'dra, and don't even bother getting to the education part. And that *is* a disservice. Shit, dudes with names like D'Brickashaw and Plexico didn't have a choice BUT to play ball.

trequer said...

My wife and I recently had a conversation about names parents bestow on their children. My wife, who is born in Germany and whose mother is Bulgarian and father is Nigerian, has a Nigerian first name. Her given name is only five letters, and is spelled and pronounced phonetically, but it is constantly butchered. Her name means “God’s gift,” which is truly prophetic.

My father is Cuban, and my mother is black American and Scottish. I have a Spanish given name. However, there was a typo when I was born, and my name was spelled with an “A” at the end, instead of an “E,” so an observer would believe the name is Slavic, instead of Spanish in derivation. Irrespective, my name is also butchered, even though there are only six letters.

The thrust of our conversation was that names are extremely important to a child. In some instances, the name defines the person. The name coveys an impression to the reader, even if it is unwarranted. An awkward or strange name can prevent extremely qualified persons from obtaining jobs or other opportunities merely because of their name. This is also true if an extremely qualified person has excessive tattoos, make-up, or provocative dress.

A name that is made up because it is unique or “sounds cute” is an unnecessary burden on a child. My wife has a friend who liked the sound “ana,” so she went down the alphabet, to-wit: A’ana, B’ana, etc.

I have two pet peeves. First, when people say things such as, “Someone has an African name.” There are more than fifty countries on the African continent, and they are as distinct from each other as the countries of Europe. An Ibo name from Nigeria would not be found in the Zaire or Morocco. Similarly, there is a difference between a “black” name, and a “ghetto” name. “Robert,” “Madeline,” “John,” “Quincy,” “Harriett,” and “Paulina,” are examples of “black” names. Names such as, “ShaVaughnDray,” “Disjuan,” “Siouxhan,” “LacKquan,” or “CashMonet” (really, I am not joking, the poor child was in my daughter’s first grade class), are examples of “ghetto” names.

Lastly, in Denmark, a court must agree before a child receives his or her given name. A court recently refused to allow parents to give their child a number in place of a name. The “ghetto” names mentioned above, causes me to think we need a higher power here.

Vinindy said...

Jennifer - go RATTLERS!

My father told me I'm named after a street in Rome - it's constantly butchered, so alot of the time, I just use my first initial. Names are important - does any remember the routine that Cedric the Entertainer did (I think it was Cedric) on why there will never be an American president named Lamar (or some other "black" name.)

j said...

I wonder how much ethnic names affect other cultures as to implied class/ education? Going by my classmates, it seems in the late 70s upwardly mobile Italian-Americans started naming their kids things like Jennifer and Andrew instead of ethnic names like Giovanna or Angelo. I have to admit that I tend to think of the more ethnic Italian names as "Sopranos" names now and all that implies. I was shocked to meet a Carmine under age 35 a few years back.

Anyway, when I was a kid, I was jealous of all the girls with ethnic-sounding names ending in -isha or -ika, but once I got to my mostly white college, I liked having a name that easily blended in. As a matter of fact one girl I know used her -ika ending middle name all through school, but had switched to using her "whiter" sounding first name by the time our 10th high school reunion rolled around. I was wondering who the heck "white name" was as I didn't remember her from our class, but then it all became clear.

daedalus said...

I saw the news over the weekend. It looks like Janeesa was found. I didnt know until I saw her picture that she was white. It goes to show you, names do matter. I am so glad my name does not start with D Apostrophe.

Heather said...

" I also think it buys in to the hype and it destroys our own cultural creativity that we've practiced since we arrived here in this country. Black folks have been making up names, and combining names for quite some time now, why stop now."

The whole creatively naming your children thing is relatively recent--1960's on ward.
Now, I'm an average black person, with an average background--ancestors from the South originally, moved to various places in the U.S. Recently my aunt started doing out family tree and several things stood out. One of them was how ordinary my ancestors names were.

We've gotten back to 1830 and I've yet to find a Boomshika, ShaQuenisha or DeVaunghdre in the bunch. There's Edward, Elijah, Sallie Mae, Jean, Dennis, Gilbert and so on. On the more exotic side, there was an Octavia and a Roosevelt. But none of them had the kinds of stuff people are giving their kids today. Not a one. For me, those names listed above--those *are* meaningful names. They may have originally been European names, but now they stand for something else. Those are the people who lived under Jim Crow, who toiled in the fields, who protected their families from the Klan. Those are the people I want to honor. So I won't be naming any of my kids Shontay, sorry.

Sherbear said...

Names matter, hands down. Its a matter of finding a middle ground between creating a unique name, but not creating one that will haunt a child forever.

Case in point: My friend works at an after school program and one of the children is named Mandingo. He doesn't know what that means (yet) but when he does, I'm sure he'll change his name.

porschla said...

It is interesting how fame and notoriety can change the impression of a name. Take LeBron James for example.

Bob Ryan from the Boston Globe said it best:

From May 6, 2008: "The Next Great Thing never turns out to be quite that, unless, of course, it does, and then it has a distinct, unforgettable name: LeBron. "Le" means "the" in French. I'm going to guess that "Bron" is just something that popped into the head of his then 16-year-old mother, Gloria, when he popped out of the womb on Dec. 30, 1984. We don't know whether she had any grand designs for this baby boy, but after watching him play basketball for several years, I hereby declare that "Bron" means "Chosen." "

Not only do I think that Bob Ryan's words are a bit caustic and stereotypical, but he has also decided that the worth of a name can only be determined by those who own it. Can you picture LeBron with the name "Bob James"? Maybe mothers take that risk, that gamble, that their child will be... chosen.

T said...

Personally, I think names that are too ghetto are a limitation for that child. I also think it's sad that this is the case. Secondly, I hope there is NEVER a law that men make their sons Jr's because my husband will have a problem. I HATE Jr's I think every child should have their OWN name and build that name by their OWN actions not inherited history. Having your fathers last name should be enough.Names are so important I would hate to not have one that is just for me.(Personal Opinion)

Anonymous said...

I worked with a guy.(Didnt know him) but his name was...


Born right here in Alabama.

Paul said...

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azizi said...

I just happened upon your blog and cosign what Paul wrote about the high quality of your post & your readers' comments.

I agree with the comment that African Americans in general have always drawn from a much wider naming pool than have Anglo-Americans. Yet, in may be of interest to folks here to note that Mormons in the USA have some similar naming practices/preferences as African Americans). Some of the "different" names that Black folks had during slavery were from African/Arabic origins & demonstrated African naming traditions. And I also believe that coining names was/is one way that Black folks during slavery could use their creativity and demonstrate their self-determination.

That said, I agree that people should give serious thought to the sound, look, length, and pronunciation of potential names for their children. I also think that people should avoid names that have negative societal meanings such as "Malaria" and "Adolph". Note that while people can avoid those names that have negative connotations because they are associated with people in the past who did horrific things, you can't know which names will have negative connotations in the future because of some deeds of one of its "owners".

I also think that it's important to think about the ascribed meaning of a name, if a name has an ascribed meaning.

BUT I also strongly believe that individuals can use their creativity and self determination to make up a name and give that name a positive meaning. Furthermore, I believe that creating new names, and changing the spelling of currently standard American names continue to be a way that people can express their creativity and self-determination. And just as a person used her or his creativity to create a new name (or a new version of an old name from European, Hebrew, Arabic, African Native American, and/or Asian and other name pools), that person can use his creativity/self-determination to assign that newly created name a meaning if it does not already have one or more meanings from those source/s of origin.

For those who may be interested, I have three pages on "non-standard" American name origins & meanings on my website. is one of those pages. The other pages are one about Yoruba (Nigeria) naming traditions and the similarities between newly created African American names & Mormon names.

Check them out, and thanks again for this post!

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