Enough with the crazy names, already!
By C. Diane Thompson
I consider myself an open-minded person. As a retired chef, I’ve worked with and hired all kinds of people from all walks of life. I would hire Goth kids, alternative head bangers, gamers and aspiring rappers. As long as they could do the job, they were welcome to work in my kitchen.
However, one thing has always been in the back if my mind as I read some of those job applications: What’s with the names we are giving our kids? As an employer, I’ve had more than one occasion where I’ve had to ask how to spell someone’s name, only to be met with some sort of eyes rolling, or some facial expression denoting, “Can’t you spell?’’
More after the jump.
My mental response was, “Sorry, Skippy; I’m not down with the latest spelling of Dante/Dontay/Donta/Dawntae/Donte/D’Onte/Deontay, or however your mother chose to creatively moniker her offspring these days.”
This phenomenon has always perplexed me, but I just tried to accept it as a part of my culture. As a black woman in her late 40s, I just chalked it up and filed it in the “Some of the crazy shit we do” file in the back if my brain. You know the file, admit it; you have the exact same file in your head, too. This is the file you reference whenever you see one your brethren do or say something so crazy, that you go all slack-jawed after witnessing it. The file that makes you utter the mantra, “I love my people,” or “Your cousins are at it again,” or simply shake your head and utter, “Damn.”
A few weeks ago, I was at a bar having a cocktail with a good friend, and a white woman in her 30s introduced herself to us. Here is the exchange we had:
Woman in her 30s: “Hi, My name is Theresa.”
Me: “Hi, my name is Diane.”
Woman in her 30’s: “Wow, I’ve never met a black woman with that name before!”
Me: “Then YOU need to get out more!”
I have a pretty regular name. There were lots of girls named Diane or Diana when I grew up, so when did my name become unusual?
Then, this whole thing came to a head when I was looking at the Ebony Fashion Fair retrospective a few days ago. There was this fierce, black plus-sized model burning up the catwalk. She was absolutely amazing. Later on in the show, her name was highlighted as she commented on her status in the fashion industry. Her name? Phonical Washington.
I tried to pronounce her name phonetically. Her name is similar to the word phonics, so I naturally assumed it was pronounced that way. Nope, it’s pronounced Pha-neesa. I would have never guessed that; especially since the irony of how her name is spelled is nothing like how it sounds (phonetically speaking, of course).
I wonder how many times she’s had to correct people on the correct pronunciation of her name.
As a kid in the 70s, members of my extended family and I were afro-sportin’, Dashiki-wearing, modern Blacks. We were no longer Negroes; we were simply Black people. And, Black was indeed beautiful. We changed our names to African ones to denote pride in our heritage, and we gave our children those names, too. Names like Donna, Kimberly, John and Mark went by the wayside as Naima, Aisha, Malik and Dante became popular. When our children were asked what their name meant, the kids could give you an answer.
You can’t necessarily say that now, can you?
The authors of Freakonomics wrote in their book that the exotic names our kids have are an indicator of their socioeconomic status. Their assertion is poor parents are more apt to give their kids distinctive names, while parents that are considered middle class give their kids mainstream names. The actress and comedienne Mo’Nique is a great example. Married twice, her first marriage produced one son, Shalon (there was her stepson, Mike Jr. from her then husband’s first marriage), while getting her standup act together. After she became famous (and wealthy), she got married again and gave birth to twins, Jonathan and David.
Of course, with names like Oprah, Condoleezza, Kobe and Barack floating around, my argument may be thin. But, these people’s achievements are so great that they seemed to transcend their names. Most of us aren’t that smart, or lucky.
So if you are expecting a child, take their futures into consideration. Give your children names that have strength and meaning, not something you saw on a sign, a drink at the club ( I once overheard a woman on a bus say proudly that her newborn girl’s middle name was Alize), or from the latest name they gave a zoo animal (In 2005, the National Zoo named their new panda Tai Shan; I wondered aloud how long it would take for some woman to tell her good, good, girlfriend about this hot name for her progeny).
Give your kid a name that exemplifies the best possible future we all want them to have.
C. Diane Thompson is a former chef, blogger and regular reader of The Black Snob.
Agree with Thompson? Think she's wrong? Comment below. And if you're so inclined, you can write the counter-argument to Thompson's manifesto against "exotic" names, and we'll post it here on The Black Snob. This story is part of a series on interesting, unusual, funny and unconventional takes on issues. To see the full list of issues that will be covered, click here. To read past stories, click here.