16 comments on “What’s in a Name?

  1. I’ve heard that activists are trying to have this fall under a hate crime, which is silly. But this IS something that should be addressed and not taken lightly. What better way to send a message about the damage caused by unfair discrimination is there than to punish those who do it? These kids need to be taught a lesson.

  2. Frankly, I don’t see what the problem is. The prank was done in bad taste. But it IS just a prank. Even the reporters made that clear.

  3. Anonymous, you simply can’t call this a prank and be done with it. This isn’t the same thing as drawing circles around eyes and blackening teeth. This “prank” had clear racist implications. I agree that this story doesn’t need people marching out in the street, but as J. Alex said, it has to be dealt with. If nothing else, these kids on the yearbook staff should be required to reproduce the yearbooks at their own expense and/or volunteer in urban neighborhoods. Forget the apology. Get some REAL action out of them.

  4. J Alex, the problem with punishing people for demonstrating racist stupidity is that those being punished don’t actually see the error of their ways. They don’t know HOW OR WHY they were offended others. All they know is that people were offended. These kids (and most people) simply do not get it.

    Dre, to address your major point: I agree that some of our choices should be brought to bear. But the bigger responsibility must fall on the institution. One of the reasons why the Bill Cosbys of the world will never get any support outside of those who have similar beliefs anyway is because he fails to look at the bigger picture. Placing the responsibility on the lesser of the parties (lesser in the simple sense of the term) will always cause people to become offended, defensive, and resistent to the message. This post would probably make Mr. Cosby proud. But it doesn’t do a thing to fix the REAL problems.

  5. KC, I get your point. But I also realize that a resume with “Cynthia” (or “Cindy” as I often go by) at the top is far less likely to get tossed to bottom of the heap than “Sho’ Neequa.” That’s reality.

    I’m forever thankful to my parents for exercising their better judgement by giving me a less discrimation-arousing name. But even if they didn’t, I think I would have eventually got it changed legally.

  6. Fortunately (or unfortunately, I suppose), we white people aren’t immune to naming our children ridiculous names either. Wasn’t it Gweneth Paltrow who named her daughter “Apple”?

  7. Andre, this post undoubtedly has an element of truth to it. But KC is right: it does come across as being elitist. Word to the wise: conversations like this are difficult for anybody to have, white or black. If you’re white saying this, you’re automatically viewed as a racist. If you’re black and you say this, you’re some uppity, self-hating “Uncle Tom”. It’s a lose-lose situation.

    Nevertheless, my husband and I made the decision to carefully name our children for some of the very reasons you cited in this post. Being black in America is hard enough. There is no point in compounding the problem for our children by giving them ghetto names.

  8. The reality is, some folks are insular and can’t adjust to the fact that there are a multitude of cultures in this country and in the world at large. Some people give their kids African names. Some people give their kids Muslim names. Some people give their kids Baha’i names. Some folks dismiss those names as “made up” without ever realizing that the names have deep significance and a long heritage, and are often quite popular, in global terms. If some folks want to make judgments about people based on their name, that’s their problem. I’m not going to make my world smaller so that it can fit inside somebody else’s mind.

  9. Andre, I have to admit that I’m a little suprised and maybe diasppointed with this post. In contrast to “bold and unapologetic commentary” you say you offer, it is peculiar that you would be so willing to appease the narrow-minded and cursory thoughts of an unenlightened world. As Malik said, names are not arbitrarily pulled out of the sky. They have significance. They have meaning. Expecting people to put that aside for the rest of the world is an idea that I once thought was beneath you. Now I’m not so sure.

  10. I guess I expected to read some of the responses written to this post. I can’t have an “Amen Corner” all the time. Still, I’m a little disturbed by how I’m being depicted here. Rather than being some shuckin’ and jivin’, Uncle Tom sellout, I like to see myself as a realist who is making an honest assessment based on the conditions on the ground. At what point in the game did the message about dealing with ‘the ways of the world’ get dissmissed as the rantings of a sellout. At what point did making people aware of the consequences of their actions become elitist?

    I don’t mind conceding to the notion that often times names have significant meanings and certain elements of symbolism (though my post didn’t have as much to do with “black” sounding names as it did with “ghetto” names. I believe there is a difference). That’s fine. But why not use it as a nickname or a shortened; most recognized by the people in that square? You still accomplish the feat of giving your child a symbolic identity without compromising their ability to gain social acceptance because of the narrow-minded folks who head particular institutions.

    Now, there are a couple of specific comments I’d like to address:

    @ KC:

    One of the reasons why the Bill Cosbys of the world will never get any support outside of those who have similar beliefs anyway is because he fails to look at the bigger picture. Placing the responsibility on the lesser of the parties (lesser in the simple sense of the term) will always cause people to become offended, defensive, and resistent to the message.

    Where people like Bill Cosby and Michael Steele miss the mark is two-fold; (1) they have some sort of antipathy for poor blacks in general and (2) the based their merciless diatribes on some false sense of relativism. They associate being “black” with being “ghetto.” I try to be a little more cautious in making such a connection. In fact, if you re-read this post, you’ll see that I also cited a few white people I’ve known with similarly ‘unique’ names. This isn’t a phenomenon exclusive to poor, uneducated blacks; contrary to what some pulpit bullies would have you think.

    @ Megan:

    Fortunately (or unfortunately, I suppose), we white people aren’t immune to naming our children ridiculous names either. Wasn’t it Gweneth Paltrow who named her daughter “Apple”.

    “Apple” will never have to apply for a job interview. Point being, if you are in a position where your children are set for life, name them however you want. But if they have to somehow make their own mark by competing in a shallow and vaccuous society, why make it harder for them?

    @ Malik:

    Some folks dismiss those names as “made up” without ever realizing that the names have deep significance and a long heritage, and are often quite popular, in global terms.

    Some people don’t know anything beyond their hometown, let alone the entire globe. A sad reality, indeed. But reality nonetheless.

    If some folks want to make judgments about people based on their name, that’s their problem.

    And my contention is that it’s MORE than just the problem of the narrow-minded folks. It’s also the problem of kid who will have his last seven applications thrown to the bottom of the pile becuase his parents thought it would be cute to name him MarQuavious instead of Mark.

    @ Anonymous:

    Andre, I have to admit that I’m a little suprised and maybe diasppointed with this post. In contrast to “bold and unapologetic commentary” you say you offer, it is peculiar that you would be so willing to appease the narrow-minded and cursory thoughts of an unenlightened world.

    Well, if that’s not the diss of all disses. But, no hurt feelings.

    The point of this post is to challenge people to pick and choose battles. I merely suggested that — in response to people’s unchanging shallowness — the rest of us should think about that as we name our children. If that means taking the “blackness” out of a name, so be it. That’s far less severe than trying to take the “blackness” out of your skin, for instance. But again, my issue is not even with so-called “black-sounding” names. I mean, “Andre” is black-sounding name; so is “Malik”. At least, according to this study, they are. Instead, my issue is with ghetto-as-hell names that are, in fact, “pulled out of the sky.”

  11. This isn’t personal. It’s just you DO come across as harsh annd too unforgiving. Try as you may to employ logic, if your delivery is bad, you won’t get anywhere.

  12. No harm done. As I said, I was expecting disagreement in one form or another. Comes with the territory…

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  15. Fair argument. That’s why I’m happy my parents had the forsight to give me a name that won’t get immediately thrown to the bottom of a resume stack.

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