Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What's In a Name?: Does It Really Matter What We Name Our Children?

Okay, enough is enough. Someone has to say something; this thing is getting out of hand.

A month or so ago, the above video had the black blogosphere all abuzz. Because two little snotty white boys did it, questions of racism were raised. However, perhaps this video is not all that off the mark.

I’m sitting here looking at an enrollment roster from an inner-city public school. And it appears that we have gone from just plain making up ish to name our children to naming them just any old thing that comes to mind. We are especially partial to expensive goods in the public marketplace or anything that sounds exotic.

But there are some things you just shouldn’t name your kids. For instance, unless you envision your sweet little baby girl becoming a stripper or a porn star, you should not name her Aphrodisiac. That’s not a good idea no matter how creatively you spell it.

And naming your twin boys Cadillac and Caviar might have seemed particularly clever at the time, but you should have passed on that idea. What kind of name is Casino? Or Gucci for that matter. Perhaps you should just stay away from expensive designer items, expensive cars, expensive foods, or anything that sounds exotic but for which you don’t know the meaning, like Diablo. That means devil in Spanish. I’m not sure if you want that label on your child. Or Capricious either for that matter.

Also, if you are going to name your children names like Precious or Glorious or Exquisite, make sure you also try to teach them to behave before they get to school. There is nothing that puzzles me more than children with such names whose behavior is completely antithetical to what their name suggests.

Finally, when choosing the spelling for your child’s name, please at least attempt to follow the spelling conventions of the English language, or any language for that matter. You can’t get mad at me for pronouncing Jamielle Ja-mi-elle even if you pronounce it like Jamal. There is no way I could have known that from looking at the spelling.

You might say I’m being a little bourgeois about this, but I happen to think that what you name your child matters in the long run. Studies have been done about this.

Not too long ago, a study was done in which study participants submitted two resumes with comparable qualifications to a Fortune 500 company. One resume used one of those made-up or cleverly spelled names we seem to prefer, while the other resume used a more recognizable, mainstream name. Who got the callback?

Invariably it was those whose names were more recognizable and mainstream. The resumes with the made-up or cleverly spelled names were virtually ignored even when, according to their resumes, they were more qualified and/or had more experience.

I know. My sister already pointed it out to me. Names on resumes could just be another racist means of sorting out minority applicants. And I do realize and concede this point. But at this point in time, that is the reality.

I do realize that it is every parent’s right to choose a name for their child. And I do realize that we would like our children to stand out from the crowd. And this is not a bad thing. I’m just saying that in naming our children, we should be more judicious and keep in mind that they will not remain children for long.

Someday they will be adults, and in the long run, a name does matter.

What do you think? Do names really matter?


SkeptikOne said...

Until my sister married a Muslim, all family names were Anglican in origin and the reason was was to get us in the door..

Back in the day...Maybe not so much now...but if your name wasn't Sally or Patsy or Robert...then your resumes were trashed, period..for work or for school..didn't matter...

So as my grandmother said, we named you so that you could survive....

We were also taught "good english" for the same reason....If you got the call...but sounded didn't get the interview....

We didn't always get the job...but we always got the face to face they had to look us in the eye and lie...if they could..

udee said...

I strongly believe in symbolically naming a child something that speaks life & blessing into the child's life. Such a name ought not be dictated by whether my child is able to get a job or not in the long run.

A name is the first sense of identity for a child and it so important to give your child a name that is reflective on the kind of life they ought to lead.

Lemme exemplify, when my father was a child, he was given a name in my native language that translates in english to 'sorrow' or 'sadness'. And his life reflected just that ... he lost both his parents at a very tender age. When he got older to understand things, he re-named himself. I'm not saying that his luck changed immediately, but it gave him the type of personal boost to now be addressed in a more positive light.

So yeah, the name Gucci isnt going to cut it.

African-American culture is just as colourful as African culture, hence child naming has surely reflected that. What has changed however, is the meaning and importance of naming ... naming ought to reflect the beauty of the Creator, not the bling bling of creation.

Kim said...

Names can matter in a sense, you have your peculiar names and then you have your ethnic sounding names. I'd take a Barack or Oprah,, which were chosen for some meaning over a Quantanisha or Daquon. But If someone can get past stereotyping someone base soley on their name it's usually becomes a non-issue like Rolanda or Montel

Max Reddick said...

@ SkeptikOne

I here the old school coming out. At one time, we were always looking toward the future, always looking for a way to get ahead. And we that each and our facet of our being would be under scrutiny. Perhaps, that is unfair, but that was and is the reality.

Now, I don't think we are thinking that way. We are thinking in the now. And it shows in all we do.

@ udee

Exactly. When my wife and I named our children, we put much thought in the name we chose. We knew our children would carry their names throughout their lives, so we endeavored to name them something meaningful, something symbolic of their place in our family and what we desired them to be. Now I think the emphasis is on clever and cute.

@ Kim

People with ethnic names like Muslims or Africans cannot help that their name perhaps does not fit so neatly in our society's means of judging others. However, I am sure their names having specific meaning in whatever their native tongue is. However, the names I am talking about, no thought went into meaning. They seemed to go for clever and cute as I stated earlier.

Kim said...

Perhaps I should have used the word ghetto(which i dont like to do) instead of ethnic.. The names I'm speaking of are the names similar to that in the video that you posted... names such as Quantaneeshla...

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