Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Black Kids With White Names? Steve vs. Jaleel

In a recent weekend conversation with my fifteen-year old son, we got onto the subject of how people are easily led to believe that which is not true. It is human nature, the lazy part at least, that has us grab the handiest explanation for things, even when a little applied brainpower tells us something different. He presented an interesting example of his understanding.

The black kids at his predominantly white, Jesuit (Catholic) high school accuse him of having a ‘white’ name, to go with his sounding white (english diction-wise). I recalled the names of his black friends as containing more than a smattering of Jaamals, DeShawns, and the like. He added that he was glad his mother and I didn’t give him a similar ‘black’ name. Man, my head hurts. I thought this ‘acting white’ thing might play itself out. Wrong.

It is bad enough that too many black parents saddle their kids with names that will forever attach them to ghetto images, regardless of where they actually start or what they achieve. Now, not having one of these ‘ghetto fabulous’ names can identify a person as less ethnically authentic (to some), at least in name, right out of the gate. More accurately, the kids are saying that new parents not only act black, but also act white, in how they choose to name their children.

For the record, my son is named for his maternal grandfather’s favorite city in his home state of Texas. Not surprising, this connection to his departed grandpa brought a smile to the boy’s face, that only emphasized the point of how easily his black classmates had led themselves astray, in what his name says and does not say.

James C. Collier


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lincolnperry said...

Hmm, thats interesting Professor, JEWs give there children similar names as African Americans...no one questions the ethnicity if the look and appear white!

How about when middle class blacks give there children names that appear ghetto...I know a couple that name there daughter RHODESIA...know you know I had a problem with naming a child after Cecil Rhodes honored former British colony, now Zimbabwe! They lack many Black Americans had no idea of this bit of African history, and just name their child combining both parents names!

Growing up in the late sixties and early seventies, I had two friends one name Sekou and the other Kwame...my mother a southern bred baptist thought these were the most ridiclous names...little did she know they were the names of African leaders of liberated countries!

I believe as African Americans, names that we give our children should be thought out, reflected of our pride, and heritage...and not anglo saxonized to accomodate ignorance of whites!

So im going to call my son Jamal-Elijah Lumumba Johnson, that covers the slaveowner ancestors, the baptist, and methodist, pan africanist, and muslims in the family...lol!

violet badbunny said...

just because a name is not categorized as a stereotypical black name, it is therefore a 'white' name?

who owns the copyright to names?? and what about biblical ones?

i know what you are saying. i just don't like when you are expected to fit into a box marked 'black' and anything you do outside of that is 'acting white'.



i am someone who could easily be accused of acting white. but what people need to realize is that no amount of oscar award winning acting is going to change my skin color!!



I personally will SHOUT that I think that a lot of times some of these names arent as bad as we think. We are so quick to label anything black as ghetto and sometimes these names are well thought out and mean something to the parents. You see their eyes light up when you ask how they came to that name. Honestly, I've seen white girls and black girls with the same names and people telling the white girl hers is EXOTIC..a word I loathe...and telling the black girl her name is GHETTO....

so we need to examine how we are so quick to put our stuff down and praise it if someone else has it.

Honestly, there are some names that are ridiculous...but thats according to some folks...we never know what a person meant or why they did what they did. I just think we should attempt to ask how they came to that name before we slap ghetto or ridiculous on them.

I know many ethnic groups that have names and parts of names that represent their culture and thats fine....But why do we put ours down? maybe some of us think it represents us culturally.....

Mmmmhmm..No one ever responds to me...but I just thought I would write anyway.

Anonymous said...

I believe the word you're looking for is "heuristic", JCC. And I don't think it's mental laziness, it's just pattern recognition. Sure, that short guy might be the best basketball player in the gym but I don't have time to put everyone through a scouting combine to find out. I'll take the tall guy and nine times out of ten it'll be the right call.

"Hmm, thats interesting Professor, JEWs give there children similar names as African Americans..."

I don't know where you got this. I've never met a Jew named Shaneikqua or JaMarcus.

Or are you guys just feigning ignorance about the abundance of ridiculous ghetto names out there?


Anonymous said...

Whatever the name, remember the kids must apply and get jobs.......hopefully. Don't maim them before they leave the starting gate.

Doll said...

I've heard this before...and it's not likely to change until we appreciate our differences and stop trying to make everyone into a carbon copy of ourselves.

While my name is definitely "White" sounding, as are all of my siblings and parents, I identify with the women and man was named after, my very Black Aunt, Great-Grandmother, and Father.

lincolnperry said...

Anon 1:16

I meet several Jewish Girls with names such as Sonya, Regina, and Teshia...that are usual associated with blacks!

parvenu said...

James, I salute you for raising this TOUGH question for African Americans! This is one of those "rock and a hard place" questions. Basically it comes down to pride versus necessity. We are free to name our children as we please be it a frivolous misspelling of some European originated name belonging to someone that we respect and admire, or it is a name that is associated with a proud recollection of our unique African heritage. But here comes the hard part associated with our naming conventions.

All of us AA's who have had careers in the business, finance or manufacturing industries know full well that most white HR personnel will not respond to applications with names predominately associated with African Americans. Long before the recent economic collapse in America, HR personnel were slightly "uncomfortable" about responding to applicant with AA sounding names, and they didn't care if they were real African names or ghetto style misspelled names. However in the distant past, when the professional labor market was thin, these HR people had little choice but to bring in all candidates with good resumes. On the other hand with today's saturated labor market (with the availability of American jobs not likely to significantly improve before 2015), college educated AA youth will find it virtually impossible to find a job with names generally associated with the AA population. HR folks will simply commit such applications to a permanent place in the round file.

Years ago when I was still working there a few companies who had fair and reasonable hiring policies. The standard practices of these corporations was simply "if you can do the job, and you convince us that you can do the job, then you're hired!" Unfortunately these companies have gone the way of the American Buffalo.

Finally, one last point. It should be noted that choosing authentic African names for AA children does not in any way bring them closer to the native people of mother Africa. An African name attached to an American Negro in NO WAY provides any acknowledged recognition by indigneous Africans of anything of substance that would support that person's claim to a valid African heritage. A name like Patrice Lumumba Kenyatta given to an AA baby might make the parents proud of their distant ethnic connection, but it will do little to provide that child with proof of a his or her valid African heritage.

Anonymous said...


As with several other names, the names you have listed are common across several ethnicities; they may share a common origin or perhaps they arose independently of each other. Regina is a relatively common name in Russia and has been for at least a couple hundred years; many Jewish people in the US have their origins in that part of the world.

Sonia/Sonya has always been a relatively popular name in Eastern Europe as well as Latin countries, and to a lesser extent England. Three famous Sonias include Queen Sonia of Norway, Sonia Sotomayor the first Latina on the US Supreme Court, and Sonia Gandhi, a very popular politician in India.

As far as Teshia, I don't have any knowledge about that one.

However, suffice to say that while white people have plenty of their own stereotyped naming practices, it doesn't seem that Jewish and African American people have much in common when it comes to naming trends.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:16

How about Tara and Monica?

Anonymous said...

And Jacqui Jeras is the name of a white woman on cnn, not a sista!!!

Anonymous said...

I cant believe this: these ghetto names DIDNT ARRIVE UNTIL WE HAD THE SEX REVOLUTION that took daddy out the house-- although black people used to name their kids LeRoy, Pierre etc. and only later the deshawns etc. came to be in the early 70s--oh yes, --we also had bibical names like Isaac, Abraham and others---speaking of the other gentlemen, Jews ALSO have the problem with seymour ira, but its isnt as bad as us with our double-capitals (slavery is over--we don' t need to name our kids after the two of us to find them on the underground railroad) in the Bible, many people had the same name, especially the new testament--Peter was nickname, and Mark was a surname for another John, so he used his LAST NAME for the GOSPEL

Anonymous said...

You black people. stop using White names. and stop calling your black people African American, your Americans and thats about it.