What’s In A (Really Ghetto) Name? A Lot of Foolishness (Unconventional Wisdom) (Guest Post)

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.

57 thoughts on “What’s In A (Really Ghetto) Name? A Lot of Foolishness (Unconventional Wisdom) (Guest Post)

  1. I know that the focus of this isn’t non-anglo names, but as someone who has a name that could easily be listed as a "ghetto" (that is thankfully not a reference to alcohol, a body part, or indicates that I strip for a living) but in talking to people of various backgrounds depending on the spelling/pronunciation I’ve learned that my name (made up by my godmother) has various distinct meanings, I can’t help but wonder why some non-anglo names get a pass. Has anyone looked up the rate at which those resumes are tossed? My argument is a bit sophomoric (other people do it too!), but I do think there is something self-defeating in calling out these "ghetto" names (I’d have to sit with it in order to better articulate why).

  2. …This is all a load of nonsense. I have lived with a "unique" name my entire life that has a space and even (!!!) a "miscellaneous" capitalization. It originates from two different languages. And I have never had a problem getting a job because of my name…if anything, it makes me stand out from the other Mary and Johns out there. Oh yeah, I graduated highschool with a 4.0 GPA and am now attending an Ivy League.My name SURE kept me back a whole lot!! It’s all about what you do in your life, not want your parents named you. You can go as far as you put your mind to, and I’m sorry, but a name like Shaquisha wouldn’t stop me from being my best if I was actually determined. I think it’s an excuse. People may look at my name and think it’s "ghetto", but I look at them and think they’re plain.

  3. Actually, "Condoleeza" is the result of a misspelling in the hospital. Dr. Rice’s parents were pretty worldly and they decided to name her after the Italian musical/opera term "Con Dolcezza" which means to play or sing "with sweetness." Somebody at the hospital misspelled it and I guess her folks thought it was too much trouble to change so they didn’t correct it. ("Oprah" has a very similar story for her name; it was supposed to be "Orpah," which I believe is Biblical, but don’t quote me on that). Even without the mistake, you might still dismiss "Condolcezza" as ghetto, even though it has a very specific meaning, not to mention high-brow, sophisticated, European roots. The purpose of a name is to identify and distinguish; anything after that is extra. There’s no requirement that your name should be easily pronounced, nor is it required that it should have some special historic meaning. The names "Jamal" and "Khadijah" come from ancient Arabic. Whether or not they sound ghetto to you, it is not ok to discriminate against Jamal and Khadijah, nor to deride their parents for giving them those names.If you chuckle when you hear a name like Charnesha (which probably has a made-up, Black American origin), you might want to consider that the problem lies not with Charnesha nor her parents for naming her, but with you. Perhaps the name reminds you of ghetto people and ghetto people scare you. Whatever the reason, it is the worst kind of discrimination and it should be fought, hard!Btw, I have a very "White" first name, and I grew up in the ghetto. I never even knew its meaning until a couple of months ago when I looked it up. Turns out the name is derived from some obscure town in Ireland.. My mother didn’t know that when she named me, she just picked a name that sounded really, really white. Should I blame her because the kids made fun of me in junior high.. of course not; it’s not my Mom’s fault that those kids were jerks.. and if you threw Chiekesha’s resume, maybe you are too..

  4. I must confess, I have had a good laugh at some of the names listed here.Let’s face it, some of these names … reflect a lack of education and an abundance of flamboyance on the part of some of these parents.Like another commenter said, it is not the non-anglo or rare names that are the issue. So let us stop all the pious hand-wringing. Because mature adults can generally tell the difference between a ‘made up’ name and the ones that actually have some meaning.For instance, in the Caribbean there are lots of young men named Jomo – as in Jomo Kenyatta because Kenyatta and the Mau Mau made an impression on a lot of Caribbean people, especially in the period leading up to the end of colonialism in the region.I also know young people named Ayanna, Kofi, Kwame (as in Nkrumah- another influential leader) etc.But these names have genuine and actual meanings in real languages that exist.Not so for little La-a (Ladasha). I laughed hysterically when I saw that because I actually know of a child called A-a (Adasha) and I am FLABBERGASTED to discover that there are two mothers in the world who are actually that idiotic. Ironically, little A-a’s mother also gets indignant with people for not pronouncing her daughter’s name properly. Of course by her reasoning, we could also call the child Ahyphena but I digress…The point is, both of these names might get laughed at on the playground but the Jomos, Kwames and Ayannas can give a powerful meaning for their name when asked, that can go some way to shutting people up.Can we say the same of A-a and La-a? Not to mention young Shitehead? Or my personal favourite – a child I met called Sencemelia. Her parents ain’t slick… not one little bit.

  5. I was both happy and sad as I read the article. I was happy when I recalled how excited I was to find out that "Deborah" is the Hebrew word for "Queen Bee." But I was sad when I remembered a frightening thought which occurred to me a few years ago when I asked myself: what if a group of school children were assigned to find out what their names meant today? I imagined a possible scenario, then wrote a short story titled, "What Do You Do When Your Name Means Nothing?" Several friends encouraged me to turn it into a children’s book, which I did. If you’re interested in a copy, please drop me an email, and I’ll send you additional information.

  6. Some names do make me cringe internally, e.g. Chad, Buffy, Apple and Shanequa are all cringe worthy for me, but in the greater scheme of things I move on fairly quickly.

  7. i understand everything & agree but, my name is SHATASIA & it has a meaning which is "born in the rainy season" & i was born in spring i love my name & find nothing wrong with it it's rare & unique

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