Let’s play the name game – but let’s play it fairly.

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For those of you who don’t know, I am obsessed with names:

What I’m going to name my future children,

What other people name their children (celebrities, friends, acquaintances),

The patterns, fads, and name popularity throughout time and across the world.

Call me a loser nerd, but I find it all intriguing. I also understand, that often, there is a taste component. I dislike the name, let’s say Viola, because of my particular tastes. I like modern and funky names and I find that one a bit traditional. I have nothing against traditional names, they just aren’t my style.

But at times, there’s something else to it. Often people seem to use inherent sexism and racism when naming their children, judging the names of other people’s children, or even in the way they approach their own name(s).

I recently was perusing my favorite name website, which has a blog component as well. There was a particular blog post where some new parents gave their reasoning behind the names they had given their newest bundles of drool and poop giggles and smiles.

Two of the parents in question chose the name Flynn for their new daughter, with the reasoning being “We love tomboy names for girls and have this vision of her as a woman in her twenties, traveling the world, capable and strong.” None of these things are bad things to want for your daughter, but why must she have a tomboyish name to complete the hopes you have for her? Couldn’t Gabriella just as easily be a strong, capable traveler as Flynn? To me, it’s one thing to like tomboy names (that’s the taste thing I mentioned earlier) but an entirely different thing to think that a name that is less feminine will spurn a person who is as well. You can like the name Flynn. You can want a strong and independent daughter. But you should definitely not think your daughter needs a tomboy name to be strong or independent. 

Like, at all.

Do people name their sons Victor with the hopes that he’ll be a winner?

Chastity in the hopes she’ll be a nun?

I don’t have an answer for you (sorry!) but it’s an interesting thought, no?

What about names from other cultures?

Still on my favorite name website/blog, I saw a blog post that broke my heart. It was written by a woman, now middle-aged or so, who was born in Israel. She fervently hates her name, beginning her post by asking “who has a worse name than mine?” During her childhood, when her family immigrated to the United States, the author felt her Israeli name made her different in ways that embarrassed her (one teacher even going so far as to ask her “what is Yona Zeldis?”). Thus, she continued, when it came time for her to have children, she named them very traditional, very Anglo names: James and Katherine.

This is where I got upset. Her blog post is titled “How Hating My Name Made Me a Better Namer,” but I don’t think it made her a “better” anything; she moved to a place where her name made assimilation unfairly difficult. People hated her name, and now she hates it, too. And because of the grief she was given for her very ethnic name, when it came time for her to name her own children, she picked two of the most traditional names in the English language. She essentially just went from one extreme to the other.

Like with Flynn, I have no malice towards James or Katherine (I know quite a few J’s and K’s) but why name your kid something that you yourself know is quite traditional as well as disconnected from your heritage?

I have to say, the fact that her ethnic name received so much intolerance upsets me greatly, but its her name – something she will always have! Why hate it just because others can’t see the beauty in it?

Speaking of U.S. culture and (in)tolerance, have you noticed the extreme dislike for “black,” or if you’re feeling offensive, “ghetto” names? Names that have little basis in the European tradition, with added beginnings/endings, that African Americans tend to have and/or name their children seem to garner a lot of hate. Does this stem from racism? I think so. Just like Yona, anyone should be able to have an ethnic name and still be respected. The arguments with that tend to be:

But what about when they need to get a job?

There won’t be any Doctor LaShondra’s.

They should think about the kid’s future, because that name isn’t professional!

Um, excuse me? That goes hand-in-hand with “hey, black lady, your natural hair is not professional in this workplace” or “PSA: black children, your natural hair is against the school dress code.” Absolutely ridiculous. There is nothing inherently more professional or acceptable about, let’s say, girls named Brynleigh, Aliannah, or Addalynn than ones named Shamika, Marnika, or FaShawn (and yes, all of those names are the names of actual white and black people, respectively).

On one hand, we have names people find different but acceptable, and on the other, different and unacceptable.

According to a study done at Northwestern University about employment and incarceration,

“Blacks are less than half as likely to receive consideration by employers, relative to their white counterparts, and black nonoffenders fall behind even whites with prior felony convictions. The powerful effects of race thus continue to direct employment decisions in ways that contribute to persisting racial inequality” (Pager 2003).

Essentially, this study manipulated variables such as name, past felony convictions, and education and found that race has and continues to have direct impact on employment in ways that perpetuate inequality.

The reason that black-signifying names are detrimental are not because they are “weird.” It is because they signify blackness. So, if a white person has a “weird” name, as long as it is not black-signifying, it will not be detrimental. Still with me?

Basically, if you are worried about someone’s child getting a job at some point, the problem is not with that child’s name, it’s with their color.

Let me rephrase.

The problem is that racism is still prevalent in our society and greatly affects minorities, but especially blacks, in their efforts to attain employment.

Look, I’m not saying I don’t find Sharkeisha a terribly appalling name, but I do understand that this is absolutely a taste issue.

So think about what issues may be influencing you and your judgment when you approach names, and remember to embrace your own 😉

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2 thoughts on “Let’s play the name game – but let’s play it fairly.

    • That’s funny that you mention Freakonomics! I put this post on my Facebook and a couple of people pointed it out to me, so then I read it. Isn’t it interesting that even though I didn’t have any of the data they did I still came to some of the same conclusions??

      Like

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