Wednesday, December 12, 2012

#18 Why Do Black People Get Creative In Naming Their Children?


I ask this question, my mother ask me this question, and I figure non-blacks must silently (if they are wise) ask it too.

No right appears more sovereign to socio-economically disadvantage blacks than naming their offspring some phonetic combination of sounds, apostrophes, prefixes and suffixes that mimic what is believed to represent an African name.

If such naming correlates to reduced life outcomes, including income, as studied by Freakonomic-economist Steven Levitt and Harvard economist Roland Fryer (here), we are left to wonder why parents, especially mothers, choose this route.

I will postulate that naming one's offspring is a non-trivial extension of the ultimate expression of independence, that of bringing a child into this world, such as it is.

For the downtrodden, however they come by their downtrodden-ness, control over their lives is practically non-existent. From birth to the grave, others tell them the measure and direction of their every move, less they end up in some worse place or shape. The decision to have a child and what to name them is, sadly, part of the one time in their lives that they get to do exactly what they please. Never mind that the child might forever pay a price. To the parent, the name is a lasting show of independence to a society that will forever force them, and their child, to conform to what others think is best.

Some might say that such naming is selfish, and it might be, but Levitt and Fryer offer that correlation is not cause. Being born poor is the greatest influence to adult disadvantage, not your name. A 'black' name, like Roshanda, does not cause the holder to live a life of social and economic disadvantage, but rather it is still the choices that Roshanda and her caregivers make in her life. The choice of studying well and working hard, even as the playing field is un-level, is still hers. I have met many impressive, accomplished, funny-sounding named people, of all colors and backgrounds.

However, let's be clear, the naming objective of all parents, throughout the ages, has been the reasonable accommodation of self-expression and placement of their child on a proper road to success, including one of minimal ridicule. Those parents who choose self-expression alone are telling the world where their priorities come to rest.

James C. Collier


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Anonymous said...

James. Love your blog and I would love to hear your thoughts on Jamie Foxx and his recent comments. Are you on twitter?

Tom said...

White people have also been doing something like this in recent decades; the whole bit about stringing random syllables together and calling it a name. (Or, sometimes they take a word and turn it into a name like "Destiny" "Sierra" or "Dakota"). The difference is that these, for boys anyhow, these often end in a a vowel followed by an "n" sound, giving the impression that it were a gerund with the "g" dropped off". Also popular are ones that give off, for lack of a better way to put it, some old West or cowboy aura (like Dakota or Sierra). My sister has three children and simply made up the names for two of them. She would have named a boy "Taden" which sounds vaguely like an action of some sort, but I can't say what exactly.

In the black community, as you note, there is also a random assortment of syllables with an eye towards making them sound like pseudo-African languages (as a longtime student of world languages, I can assure that they don't!)like Tah'akleen or sometimes Arabic. How and when did this start I'm 30; when I was in school, black students my age had names like "James" or "Dan". Sometime in the 90s, I started to notice that younger black students had those bizarre, made up names. Now I see ones that include apostrophes and sometimes aren't remotely pronounced as they are spelled-too many examples to mention

While I am not in favor of these trends, I suspect it has something to do with each group looking back to an idealized archetype or past/origin story; a frontier or Western for white people and African heritage for black people. Except cowboys weren't names Gilten and West Africans weren't named Tre'kwoton.

Anonymous said...

this is probably because of SINGLE MOMS naming their kids
There hasn't been names like this UNTIL THE EARLY 70s
De or D-anything for guys'
Anything-sha for the girls

later, white women started naming kids dakota, sierra, stuff like that also the 3 C names: Connor, Cody, Caleb

Black Dragon said...

I always wondered if it would be looked down upon to name my child something from a different language or culture other than english or african. I've always loved japanese, chinese and greek names and even a few german names. Names like Kureha and Galatea but I probably wouldn't name her Galatea because she sounds like a warrior princess. I just feel that having to name my kids stephanie and jessica and mark just don't interest me. What do you think? Are other language names ok for a black kid or should I stick to american.

Jim said...

Other languages are fine. My rule is English spelling rules, i.e. vowels and consonants, for English names, etc. Think about how it will be shortened/abbreviated and what images it conjures.

Ikan Helpu said...

This is prevelant in my family. All my aunts and uncles have beautiful names, from Ella to Oscar, Faulk and Kelly. Then something changed. My cousins ended up with names like Marquita, Mae Mae and Chace. My grandmother was extremely uneducated but at least had sense enough to name her children respectably. It's disgusting what people do to destroy their children's lives. I am a corporate attorney and the managing partner even asks me why people do this to their kids every time we go on a hiring spree. All I can do is explain that the only thing that IS the interviewees fault is not having the wherewithal to change their name (because I assure you, if I was names Shar'quandita I would change my name immediately at 18). Luckily though, my parents gave me a Jewish name to level the playing field 😏)