Posted by: Ophelia | April 27, 2008

The Name Game

On having a black name.

I think it’s interesting and wise that she never gives her name–you’re meant to project something there, and I’m sure some people are going to protest that they don’t make judgments like that, that people are people, but let’s be honest. I’ve seen plenty of online discussions about “trashy” or “stupid” names. When pressed for the reasoning behind their assertions, there isn’t anything tangible. They sputter and swear that the names are just faulty and wrong to give to any child, when what they mean is that “those people” name their children those things. Those people can be anyone who doesn’t fit into their ideal parent, poor, uneducated, Black, Spanish speaking, whatever. The names become conflated with the culture from whence they came–and if its unacceptable, it’s stupid. It irks me, and I hate having conversations like that. Name prejudice is an easy way for bigots to air their views inoffensively. No one recoils in disgust when someone laughs at a name, they tend to join in. The same thing happens with language choice and accents, hell I’ve only taken one linguistics class but the rule that they drum into your head is that there is no such thing as good and bad language, greater and less than accents or sentence structure but people swear up and down that there is and only they speak it–everyone else is wrong.

Anyway, I have the experience the opposite way. I’ve got a plain jane sounds like someone’s grandma’s white person name. Its only amusing the first handful of times when they see that you’re not the color your name would seem to indicate. I’m almost firmly convinced that the phone interview is supposed to be the second tier weeding out process where they check for blackccent, finding none, they rest assured that they’ve found a proper white candidate, only to see me and sputter. I didn’t realize there was an official naming code for each ethnicity and by not falling into it, I’ve breached the unspoken code. How dare I not be white when I seem cued that way.

Its so easy to place people in categories, because then, you don’t have to think.

(Link courtesy of Racialicious)



  1. Wow – thanks for linking to that – it was really interesting.

    Some of my close friends are going through the name debate now, and it is amazing to watch how much fear there is of giving a child a ‘wrong’ name. My friends are both scientists from Mexico, but their baby will be born here – a U.S. citizen who will spend part of his life in Mexico, part in the States. Since living here, my friends have had to face a lot of false assumptions about them – that they are poor and uneducated and in the country illegally, for example. While they are proud to be Mexican, the debate is over what name to give their child reflects both their desire to have him embrace his heritage, and to protect him from other people’s racist assumptions. Of course, part of the concern is that the child have a name that is easily pronounced in either language, since he will be bilingual. Yet, time in time again when his mother suggests a name like ‘Diego,’ his father says something along the lines of ‘But its not a common name here.’ Of course it is a common name here – but only for latinos.

  2. Having a name that pings you as ethnic is problematic in the American school system as well–I’ll have to dig around but I recall a study about how teachers recieve the work and behavior of students with “ethnic” names. People just can’t seem to fathom that whether my name is black, white, Latino, or Asian, I’m still the same person and my work should be evaluated individually and not with the aid of stereotypes. As it is, everyone in my family has “white” names–that doesn’t change the fact that we’re black just the same.

  3. Hey there, thanks for your kind comments. I am finally working my way through the links, and as you might imagine, some have been rather harrowing. Many have been kind, such as yours and Racialicious. As you might guess, certain majority-white blogs like Meta-Filter have been nasty and insulting, whereas minority blogs are more thoughtful, sharing personal experiences. Hmm. Wonder why? 😉

    Thanks again.

  4. I honestly wouldn’t have expected a negative reaction, but then again I’m never surprised to see it. Let me guess, you struck a nerve because they themselves have these naming standards internalized and how dare you point them out and hurt their feelings!

    Oh boy.

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