What's in a name?

Let me start with names. In our culture, a name is a very important thing. It tells us the difference between my dog and yours. Who your ancestors are and where they came from. A name is who you are. Without a name, how do you introduce yourself? Or discipline a child? Or be recognized in the world around you?

So if a name is so important, why do some people have to complicate it so much? It confuses me greatly. Working in a law firm, I come across a lot of names. Today, I was absolutely taken aback by the names involved in this one case. I’ll warn you before starting: this may sound borderline racist. If you are offended by racist sounding material, please stop reading else I throw you an “I told you so.”

Obviously I can’t discuss this case or share any of the names. I can tell you, however, that the names are obviously African-American. Offended already? Well, get used to the stereotype cause you made it. I cringed while reading over these names, young and old, male and female. I just have one unanswerable question: why? Why do you feel compelled to add an apostrophe and a prefix? Why do you insist on spelling a name with the opposite letters? For instance, why is Kristal better than Crystal? Or D’Shawn over Shawn? In your fight to make unique names, you’re conforming to a standard of production. And it’s just plain butchering the English language. Have you ever stopped to think what these unique names portray to other people? To some it may make you seem ignorant and illiterate that you don’t know how to spell a simple name. If you’re not one who cares, then kudos to you. Your effort for something new has caused you to literally rearrange names for your own personal satisfaction that you child will have a unique name.

Have you really thought about your child, though? Do you really expect your child to do well in school with a name like Le’Shaniquakana Jones if she can’t even spell her own name? That is embarrassing for the child, frustrating for the teacher and one more question of your sanity. Want to mark your child as unique? Try something like ‘Aria’ for a beautiful solo sung by the lead female vocalist. Or ‘Adagio’ for a tempo indicating the music should be played slowly. See, there are plenty enough unusual names you can find just by opening a dictionary, not throwing a bunch of letters and an apostrophe into something. Try something with a bit more meaning behind it.

Once again, why? Is this some kind of rebellion from cultural normalcy? Another way to mark your difference? Too good for the names of the rest of us? If it’s a way of respecting your roots, I might understand. Parents name their kids after grandparents or throw in that family name all the time. Me personally, I, and several thousand others, was named after the main character of a 1984 novel-turned-tv mini-series. I’m just as proud of my name, even after sharing it with many others through my school years. I’m sure your kids will enjoy standing out in a crowd of names.

I have done some research on this and have to admit that all African-American names are not necessarily completely made up and meaningless. Ebony, Chantal, Jamal are very nice names with nice meanings. Darshelle, Kaniqua, Diquan are all without an apparent meaning. While it may sound nice, think about the effect it’ll have on your child. “Mom, is there a meaning to my name?” “No, son, I just liked the way it sounded.” Way to make you child feel special. So, please, do a little bit of research before you go off picking names out of a home shopping catalogue.

Now, after all of this, I must say I respect your right to name your kid Pájàmas for all I care. I just ask that you raise your kid with the same faith in their name as you have in it. There’s “nothing worse” than a child hating their own ultra unique name.

There we go, I told you so.

Uploaded 06/26/2008
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Tags: name race


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