black names and white ridicule

This past November, a video of a beating delivered by one Houston area teen on another went viral. In the video, a black teenager named Sharkeisha attacked another, sucker punching her and continuing to assault her despite friends and onlookers attempting to separate the two. It’s unclear what precipitated the attack. Part of the immensely depressing genre of viral street fight videos, the clip spread quickly throughout the internet through all the usual means. Sharkeisha quickly became a meme; a simple Google Image search reveals dozens or hundreds of jokes about her. She seems to have been, from my vantage, of especial interest to image boards and forums, where the persistence of internet anonymity leaves people free to traffic in racial humor free of consequence.

I don’t excuse the attack, but I do place it in a socioeconomic context that helps to explain it, and I further recognize that the young woman responsible for it is still a child. We recognize that children are not always yet able to make good decisions or to understand the consequences of their actions, and so we have a special legal system for them that hopefully avoids permanent damage to their lives. Now, though, with the video and her name both very public, the attack will follow her, one way or another, for the rest of her life. The Sharkeisha internet phenomenon is all bound up in the way our culture views, and fails to value, black women, with Sharkeisha perfectly symbolizing for a white audience the durable stereotype of black women as brutish, bitchy, and aggressive. But I’m also interested in what, exactly, caused this particular video to go viral, and what that says about white attitudes towards black names.

After all, there are tons of such videos out there. Depressingly, there are thousands of street  fight videos online, and many of them feature young black women. Given the fixation on Sharkeisha’s name, I have to assume that’s the reason this particular clip has gotten so much attention. Certainly, based on how I’ve seen the video discussed, as well as on the many, many memes that have sprung up, the name Sharkeisha is taken to be inherently ridiculous. Sharkeisha is indeed a rare name, one I’ve never heard before, and I wouldn’t be surprised if her parents came up with it on their own. It involves the word “Shark,” which I suppose combines with the violence of the video in an unfortunate (but memorable) way. Is that why? I’m sure nobody finds the presence of the word “ant” in Anthony particularly ridiculous. But then, Anthony is a traditional name. So is that it? The novelty? Certainly, a desire to be novel in naming your child is a very widespread phenomenon. My friends who are parents are always expressing frustration when someone they know chooses the same name for their baby. I don’t deny that celebrities who name their children things like Apple are mocked, but I also don’t think that mockery has the same edge, the same naked class hatred, as a name like Sharkeisha.

I think Sharkeisha is taken to be inherently ridiculous because it’s seen as a black name, perceived as the naming conventions of black parents taken to extremes, and I think that black names are seen as uniquely ridiculous because of straightforward racism, because black people are seen as uniquely ridiculous. A child is born on New Year’s Day named So’Unique, the news runs it, it gets screencapped, and before she can talk or walk or really has a self, she becomes an object of internet ridicule. Kids named Shiloh and Knox demonstrate inventiveness in parents, idiosyncrasy at worst. So’Unique demonstrates absurdity.

Being born in 1981 and attending an elementary school that was about a third black, I grew up around many peers who had African or African-inspired names, names like Qualisha and Kamika and Kareem. The mid-80s was a period of racial optimism, in many ways, and a time when the black pride movement had become somewhat depoliticized but far more ubiquitous. I grew up among black children who, whether their parents were poor or middle class, were raised to feel pride in their African heritage, and who expressed that pride in their dress and the way they decorated their homes. But even then, it was clear that black names were not valued. I remember many times that substitute teachers would complain openly about their difficulty in pronouncing these “crazy” names. In my class one year, I had peers named Tamisha and Tashima. One sub, incredulous, asked them in front of the class if their parents had planned that out. I’m not quite sure what grade it was, but they couldn’t have been older than 7 or 8 or 9. Looking back, it’s a extraordinarily elegant way to degrade a pair of children, to mock their names, and with them, their identities. And it was also one of the countless little ways in which white kids like myself, whatever the good intentions of teachers and parents, were subtly indoctrinated to believe in black inferiority.

Like so much within racism, this disrespect towards black names carries with it the most important tool in an ostensibly post-racial but actually deeply racist culture: plausible deniability. That sub, I’m sure, did not think she was being racist. She was merely reacting to the oddity of those names! She was not ridiculing those children. She merely thought there was something uniquely  funny about their names. Similarly, I have no doubt that the endless message board denizens who post the Sharkeisha memes would tell you that there’s nothing racist about what they’re doing. It’s not that I’m making fun of black people. I’m just making fun of this black person and her black parents and the black name they chose. Just like people making fun of long t-shirts or sagging pants are never making fun of black people, just black practices. Yes, there’s some part of my lizard brain that thinks its ridiculous for people to have their pants down around their ankles. But I know myself and my culture enough to know that those feelings can’t possibly be extracted from the racist society in which I live. At this point, though, I despair at most white people ever being willing to interrogate the way in which their good intentions are rendered moot by their culture, by their context. For far too many people, when it comes to race, only good intentions matter. I myself have been guilty of racism against my best intentions more times than I care to reveal.

Names have power. Alex Haley knew it when he wrote Roots. Malcolm X’s story, from Malcolm Little to Detroit Red to Malcolm X to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, is the story of how names can be a tool of either self-denial or self-ownership. For black Americans, black names have stakes, economic stakes. Research shows that resumes with black names are significantly (in both a statistical and practical sense) less likely to receive interview offers than than those without black names, even when the qualifications are identical. This is the way in which casual, personal disrespect and the racism of language bleeds into the economic and material, and how a culture that calls itself post-racial perpetuates the notion of black inferiority. Every Sharkeisha meme is not created or shared in a spirit of intentional or explicit racism, but every one contributes to a racist culture just the same.

Update:

1. All names are “made up.” All names were once new. Some names die out; some names are created. That’s how language works. To say that ridicule comes only to names that lack “history” is actually to betray ignorance of history. And not all new names are mocked.

2. Almost all names have denotative meaning in their home languages. To say that a name like So’Unique is inherently ridiculous because it includes identifiable words is a profoundly ignorant thing to say in a world of Smiths, Johnsons, Coopers, and the like.

3. If your name sounds Anglo or Asian or Indian or anything else, even if it’s “made up”– as opposed to all those not-made-up names out there, I guess– nobody bats an eyelash. If your name is Quatima, you’re mocked. To pretend that race has nothing to do with that is incredibly naive.

46 Comments

  1. I’m not sure what your real issue is here. Is your issue that this person has been made fun of because of their idiotic behavior or because of their name. The infamous sorority girl rant became an internet sensation for a variety of different reasons. Some of the generalizations based on frats and sororities.

    The guy in the coon skin cap (Carter Johnson) was also an internet sensation. It was his name, his accent, and his description of a story. What makes that funny? Does he fit some stereotype about Southerners?

    1. If you are incapable of recognizing the differences between racism and generalizations about sororities and people who where coon skin caps, I’m afraid I can’t help you.

  2. “I think Sharkeisha is taken to be inherently ridiculous because it’s seen as a black name, perceived as the naming conventions of black parents taken to extremes”

    Aren’t ‘Shiloh’, ‘Apple’, and ‘Knox’ examples of the naming conventions of yuppie whites taken to extremes? Many people find yuppie upper class whites to be inherently ridiculous.

    “I grew up around many peers who had African or African-inspired names, names like Qualisha and Kamika and Kareem.”

    You are ignoring history and social norms (or are maybe ignorant of history) in order to make a half-assed point about racism. Kamika comes from Sanksrit. Kareem comes from Arabic. All names may have been new at one point, but when you say:

    “Certainly, a desire to be novel in naming your child is a very widespread phenomenon.”

    You stop at saying that there can be many intentions behind a desire for uniqueness, not all of them noble. We put a lot of weight on names because names carry meaning and character. Parents naming their kid ‘Sharkeisha,’ a name that has likely never existed before, can be seen not as an example of racism but as an example of THE DESIRE FOR UNIQUENESS TAKEN TO EXTREMES, not the naming conventions of black parents (whatever that means?) taken to extremes.

    I’m not saying this particular form of name snobbery is not tied to racism. In many instances, it probably is. But some people just have stupid names. Not every criticism of a black person (in this instance, whoever named their kid ‘Sharkeisha’) is about racism.

    To illustrate my point, I leave you with the following video, created by people whose body of work is a subtle, thoughtful, comprehensive commentary on race.

    1. Yuppie upper class whites don’t suffer from a vast host of structural inequalities and entrenched bigotry. Again: all names were once new. There are plenty of names that are new that no one bats an eyelash at. If these parents want to invent a name, they are merely following thousands of years of history in doing so. I don’t know how you mean that names carry character and meaning, as they are literally chosen before someone’s character exist. I invite you to explore the memes and jokes that were generated about this young woman. If you maintain a belief that racism is not a factor in her ridicule after that, it’ll be because you choose to.

      1. “There are plenty of names that are new that no one bats an eyelash at.”

        Freddie: Try me. I’m a “yuppie upper class white” who thinks all the “made up” names of other YUCW’s are bad ideas–ranging from the merely dull to the aggressively stupid. I’m affirmatively bothered by the use of “Madison” as a girls name–I think it’s a good name for a dog.

        Perhaps I am the judgmental exception that proves your rule that ‘no one bats an eyelash’, but I certainly am as put off by the naming conventions of the prep school/horsey set as I am by the LeCarmelo’HaHa’evious set. Now, if someone doing that has the sense to use the odd name as a middle name, with a ‘normal’ first name, or vice versa, then great. Also great if the kid decides to change his/her name to something nutso.

        But saddling a kid with *only* an odd name–in the absence of a trust fund (very rich people continue to be eccentric rather than crazy; ie I’m unconcerned about Apple Martin and Blue Ivy (altho they both fit my proviso–Apple’s 2d middle name is Alison)) –is about the same as giving them a face tattoo for ‘cultural reasons’–for the vast majority of kids, it’s a permanent liability.

      2. And if a parent chooses to burden an already disadvantaged child right out of the gate with an undeniably ridiculous name, then they bear as least some of the responsibility for their unrealized potential. We have certain cultural norms and notions, wrong or right, racist or not, that attach a certain preconceived view of a person based upon their name. That is never going to change, it’s part of the less savory tribal nature of human beings.

        Apple, Shiloh, Knox, or Sharkeisha, Qualisha, and Kamika are equally grounds for suspicion in terms of hiring in my mind. The former were most likely raised with an over inflated sense of self importance and a belief in how “special” they are; and the latter most likely grew up in a household of oppositional race consciousness ever poised to find racism rearing its ugly head with every slight.

        Neither one would be a particularly good hire in a nation where teamwork, cooperation, and a certain cultural common ground are necessary to move forward.

        1. “the latter most likely grew up in a household of oppositional race consciousness ever poised to find racism rearing its ugly head with every slight”

          No more so than a white kid with a trailer park name.

          The more likely (still stereotyping) knock for both is that they grew up poor, and went to crappy schools, and don’t understand the cultural norms of ‘middle class’ America. And if they *did* go to ‘prestige school X’, they were a scholarship/diversity admit, rather than being there on merit. Thus, ‘bad hiring risk’.

          1. Thank you, Chris. BTW, I am that guy, an upper-middle-class white guy who was saddled with a certain nickname at birth and who has answered to that name — and no other — ever since. The nickname, which almost everybody throughout my 60 years believes is my actual first name, became very painful at about age 10, when a TV character was introduced who had the same moniker. The TV character — who became hugely popular — was a backwoods ignoramus, and I caught endless crap because of it. Was I stereotyped in my youth? Hell yes!

          2. I don’t necessarily disagree. The simple fact is that to excel in America there is a dominant culture that one has to adhere to cultural or economic background be damned, and we have certain prejudicial feelings, sometimes experience based, sometimes not, that predispose us against certain names due the the background we assume they come from.

            Whether it be Shelby Lynn from the trailer park or Loquisha from the projects that the sad but real fact is the professional world assumes they exist in a world that is for the most part incomprehensible and unimaginable.

            I do maintain for the most part, though, that teaching your children respect, manners, and grammatically correct and proper English will go a long way to overcome some of the nastier initial impressions.

          3. @ninja3000: Based upon your age I’m guessing your nick-name was Jethro? Although I guess it could also be Gomer.

        2. “oppositional race consciousness ever poised to find racism rearing its ugly head with every slight.”

          “i’m not a white supremicist i just don’t think blacks should be proud of having their own names”

  3. “Again: all names were once new. There are plenty of names that are new that no one bats an eyelash at.”

    I suspect a statistical analysis of the ‘newness’ of a name vs its acceptance or social utility would prove you wrong, but I do not have information to make a qualified argument here.

    “I invite you to explore the memes and jokes that were generated about this young woman.”

    I have explored these jokes, and they are terribly, awfully racist – but they are racist because they equate a silly name with a character or moral defect. This is something you fail to parse in your piece.

  4. “Yuppie upper class whites don’t suffer from a vast host of structural inequalities and entrenched bigotry.”

    This is a valid point ONLY if unique black naming conventions are a defensive response to entrenched bigotry, and I think you’d have a hard time proving that argument.

  5. Curious, in Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, one of the characters was named Dashiki, which she explained was “Swahili for doggystlye” — was that an example of racism? What about the TV show “Martin” which featured a buffoonish character named Sheneneh — also racism? Or is it only possible for other black people to make fun of such names (or associating them with ridiculous people) without being racist? Is it possible for white people for make fun of some black names without being racist? What if those same white people, like me, also enjoy making fun of the penchant of many white people to give their children pretentious first names which are more commonly used as last names like “Brixton” and other such nonsense? Or ridiculous names given by white celebrities to their kids such as Apple, Moon Unit and MoxieCrimeFighter? Are all names off limits for making fun, or just those of black people? What exactly are the rules? Thanks.

    1. Look: the argument “black people do this too” is widely and correctly regarded as an inherently fallacious and failed argument. What you are saying is no different from saying “black people can say the N-word, why can’t I?” Moreover, you’ve given no argument– why, exactly, are those names “pretentious” or “nonsense”? What is your reasoning? Like everyone else reacting negatively to this post, you seem to have no actual argument.

      1. I say pretentious because it seems these people are trying to give their kids names that — at least in my mind — conjure up images of royalty or high society and is a conscious exercise in branding (there is a reason why name consultants exist). And I say ridiculous because an apple is an object, not a person’s name (ditto for Moon Unit), while MoxieCrimeFighter sounds like a television series.

        Again, is your position simply that all names — regardless of ethnic association — are beyond criticism? Is this an area that is off limits? Am I not allowed to find certain names laughable?

      2. Oh, and as for the “black people do it too” argument: my point was that these are clearly examples of black names being made fun of, and wondering if it is kosher when black people do it or only when white people do it. Basically, I’m still trying to figure out if making fun of all names is forbidden, or only those of black people by white people. Since you also don’t take kindly to my criticism of the names many white people give their kids, my guess right now is that you think making fun of names is off limits in all situations (which, if true, means you should also be at least mildly upset over the mocking of Dashiki and Sheneneh).

  6. Colin, I think what Freddie here is trying to say is that people who have suffered from systemic prejudice are above reproach.

    Freddie, you have yet to address the difference between finding a name ridiculous, and equating a ridiculous name with a ridiculous character.

    1. I’m in fact saying nothing of the kind, have said nothing that could reasonably be implied to mean that, don’t believe it, and don’t think any reasonable reading of what I’ve written implies any such thing. Further, since you are the one making the claim that a name can be ridiculous, you are the one who faces a burden of proof to demonstrate why a name might be ridiculous, and you’ve utterly failed to do so.

  7. Now you’re just being disingenuous. Ridiculous is the desire for uniqueness taken to extremes. And you STILL have not addressed the idea that one can find a name silly (silly, as I have explained twice now, is a name for which the only root or rationale is ‘uniqueness’) without assuming the person to whom the name belongs is lesser in some way.

    I expect it’s harder for someone named Fred to understand. I am an American of Indian heritage and often heard in my youth the sentiment ‘why can’t you have a normal name?’ I never gave these comments much weight because I know where my name comes from. I imagine if my parents had answered my questions about where my name comes from and what it means with “oh nowhere and nothing really, we just thought it sounded cool”, I would be much less secure and likely resentful. If you wish to name your child Apple or LaQua’dric or Like or Sharkeisha, that’s your business, but you may be doing them a disservice.

  8. There is some oversimplification going on in this post, along with a large grain of truth. A lot of middle-class black people also laugh at names like Sharkeisha and Latrina–but their own children might bear real African names like Kweku or Thandiwe. You can project self-loathing racism on them if you want. I wouldn’t. At lot of middle-class white people laugh at “soap opera names”: Madisons and the like. (If you look at such names on the SSN website, you’ll see that they go out of vogue in about 10-15 years–basically laughed out of existence.) To make the parallel more precise, I have heard another term for “soap opera names”: “trailer park names.” In either case, girls have it worse than boys. You can argue that Latrinas have it worse than Madisons, and you’re probably right. But I’m not sure I would build a charge of racism on such flimsy foundations, not when classism explains almost as much.

    There is better evidence for name racism. It comes not from a weird black name like Sharkeisha, but rather a non-weird black name like Tyrone. Many more people laugh at Tyrone Jackson’s given name than Tyrone Power’s.

    Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes a weird name is just a weird name. Parents shouldn’t inflict weird names on their children.

    1. “when classism explains almost as much”

      Yep.

      “There is better evidence for name racism. It comes not from a weird black name like Sharkeisha, but rather a non-weird black name like Tyrone.”

      Yep, yep. And if there are (no idea if true–would take some research) once semi-common, ‘non-weird’ names that have been ‘poisoned’ by being associated with a famous black person, that would be a strong indicator, too.

      “Parents shouldn’t inflict weird names on their children.”

      Yep, yep, yep. What should be the *whole* point.

  9. I think you have illustrated an intelligent and thoughtful observation, but I must insist on challenging a few of the things published here. Firstly, I would imagine the word “shark” is one of the most searched phrases on YouTube, and I’m sure this helped the video go viral. I don’t think people are inherently racist, I think that we as human beings are generally afraid of things we don’t understand, especially from a cultural standpoint. With that said, I think we make judgements of peoples names because we don’t understand it’s cultural significance, and rather than try to gain understanding we ridicule as a way to mask our own insecurities or general lack of understanding. I don’t think this is limited to race. As someone has a name that happens to be linked to the most popular donut chain on the planet; I’ve had my share of ridicule and I don’t think it had anything to do with race, but rather lack of understanding of something unusual. In college I was friends with a girl named Lysteryne. This is not a joke, she was a nice person. I won’t tell you her race, but I’m not sure naming your child after a mouthwash merits creativity or understanding, but rather a lack of creativity. It’s the same reason people laugh when dogs, sniff each other. It’s behind people’s fascination with Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party.It’s a ridiculous notion beyond the realm of conventional understanding that makes people uncomfortable. I feel as if you looked at this as superficially as possible to push an agenda that doesn’t necessarily exist. Yes, some people are racist. This goes beyond race into the cultural depths of the human psyche which exists in ALL people. You can’t take a few racist comments and build an argument around it. It sounds like YOU do not understand the difference between racism and generalizations. All in all well written and thanks for sharing. Dig deeper next time.

  10. You sound amazingly like one of those Tumblr social justice warriors … this also reminds me of Film Crit Hulk’s rape essay, just a weird condescension about the whole thing. Thanks for helping all of us to check our privilege, or whatever; cishet white men are just the worst!

    Sharkiesha and So’Unique are incredibly ridiculous names by any standard, and I’m pretty sure that you would agree after a couple beers, rather than acting like the p.c. police are about to knock down your door. Finding the names to be ridiculous is not inherently patriarchal/racist. Sometimes a name is just a name. I laugh just as much at Apple or Finn or whatever else … literally, in my everyday life, I make fun of those names way more often. Systematic racism has nothing to do with the preciousness and/or ridiculousness of these names.

  11. This is my first and last visit to this site. The author’s defensiveness in his replies reveals a lack of strength and intellect.

  12. This is a more effective rebuttal of these many racism-denying comments than I could articulate in this space.

    http://www.thenation.com/blog/177772/three-ways-fight-racism-2014

    Saying “society does not permit this” is a way for you to say “I don’t like this but I am unwilling to own my disapproval.” If you insist that individuals must conform to the dictates of an unjust society, rather than insisting that the society has to change, you’re part of the problem.

  13. “Saying “society does not permit this” is a way for you to say “I don’t like this but I am unwilling to own my disapproval.””

    Ok, where’s the line, then? What is ‘society’ allowed to disapprove of? Can we think that HoneyBooBoo is a ridiculous sideshow, without being classist? Can we disapprove of Fred Phelps and his clan? Are those judgments ok because the subjects are white?

    Is veiling ok, bc it’s cultural and religious, or not ok bc it implies (tho is not necessarily an indication of) subjugation of women? Is there any difference (arguendo) if it were Arabs, Africans, or (white) Mormons practicing veiling?

    Yes, American society (and most contemporary societies) has a racist undergirding that hasn’t been dismantled. I don’t believe that disapproval of “Sharkeshia” as a name is *necessarily* a symptom of that, but there isn’t much of a ‘con’ argument that some could use derision of a ‘silly’ name as a pretext for subtly expressing support for continuation of de facto racist policies. Parents who are concerned about their children being future full participants in American society *still* should *not* name their daughter “Sharkeshia”–it works out for one in a million (Beyonce, Oprah, LeBron, Shaquille), but for the vast majority, it is an unnecessary weight.

  14. As mentioned there is definitely the class element there too. I remember when Sarah Palin first came to prominence nationally there was a snide class-assumption about naming her kids “Track” and “Trig Van Palin”.

    Individualism in naming children seems to be desired by most people (at least most Americans). There seems to be an idea out there that “the right sort of people” will seek uniqueness by reaching back and reviving an older name like Emmeline or Gideon or Zackariah. Whereas “the wrong sort of people” seek uniqueness by just “making something up”.

    It’s not new. In the 1860s novel “Wives and Daughters” folks of a certain class make snide comments about the unusual and slightly ridiculous name of “Cynthia” in an era where Mary, Catherine, and Elizabeth dominated.

    1. “Individualism in naming children seems to be desired by most people (at least most Americans).”

      Based on…what? The top 1000 names in the social security database make up 72% of all babies (in 2012–has been trending down). It’s about 80% of boys and 2/3s of girls with one of the top 1000 names. So, at most, about 1/3 of Americans are highly desiring an ‘individual’ baby name–or, at least, not more than 1/3 do an even half-assed job of picking a ‘unique’ name.

      ‘“the right sort of people” will seek uniqueness … Zackariah’

      You mean, by changing the spelling of a ‘traditional’ name (it’s Zachariah or Zechariah)? Pretty sure that’s a ‘wrong sort’ approach, too. Can also get the same result by changing the pronunciation of a common name, without changing the spelling–I’ve known women using at least 3 (all American, and not reliant on regional pronunciation) different pronunciations of Andrea (‘an-dre-a, ‘on-dre-a, ondre’-a), all spelled the same way.

      And, again, people can do whatever they want, but going for ‘unique’ is a disservice to the kid (in the long run) in the vast majority of cases.

      1. Based on the Social Security administration. I recently read an article where they were saying a name being #1 or Top 10 isn’t the same in terms of % of population given that name even 40 years ago. So “Madison” being #9 in 2011 isn’t the same as “Lisa” being #9 circa 1965. The overall spread is larger and thinner now. I’ll poke around for the article the thrust/intro was parents are sometimes dismayed when they enroll their child in pre-school and find out “Mia” wasn’t the rare jewell THEY thought it was.

  15. Unlike most people in the comments, I understood and agreed with this article. A lot of overly sensitive racists are trying to defend themselves with two arguments:

    1) Any new or unusual name has a chance of seeming funny.

    2) Blacks are not the only group stereotyped based on unusual names.

    Both of these statements are true but irrelevant. First, even though rich white kids with names like Baxter or Zeek or Apple are mocked, there is nowhere near the same level of open disdain of them based only on their names so frequently and openly discussed. Second, nobody ever said it was okay to mock white people for their names either. The fact that groups besides blacks are mocked for their names doesn’t mean that making fun of names like Sharkeisha is acceptable. Any kind of bigotry and unpleasant behavior like this should be stopped. This article was just pointing out a particular instance that showed particularly aggressive, widespread attacks on a particular group. This is a clear instance of racism, and none of the excuses presented change that.

  16. Thank you Freddie. You articulate yourself quite well. I’m going to recommend this piece towards an anti-racism group in my city. I appreciate your thoughtful dissemination of the issue, white privilege and structural prejudice. Sounds like you are understand a bit of what it means to be Black in America.

  17. I come from Italy and still have troubles understanding the dynamics of race relations in this country. I do, however, find the whole Black names discussion somehow parochial. In Italy, typical American names such as Deborah, Jessica, Vanessa, Jennifer and the like, are widespread among low class families. Obviously there is nothing wrong with such names per se, it’s the idea that they are chosen because they sound “American” that makes them laughable. In a beautiful novel by Chinese writer Mo Yan, the author tells about a village where children were traditionally named “arm”, “nostril”, “upper lip” etc., because it was thought that such humble, modest names, would ensure a long life, but that new generations are now named after Singapore soap operas’ heroes. My children have beautiful, traditional Italian names, which (often not-overly talented in the language department) Americans have issues pronouncing, but nobody makes fun of them, because they do not come from a cultural desert and they do not testify to the absence of education and to the ignorance of social rules. Middle class African Americans don’t name their girls Sharkeisha, just as middle class Italians don’t name them Jennifer.

  18. I completely understand how time, context and nicknames changes the meaning of names. I’m pretty sure my first name would be different if I were born today.

  19. If you want to give your child the best chance of succeeding in life, I think the kind of name to choose is clear. Make the same choice my grandparents made in the 30’s, which was to name your son Joe and not Giuseppe, that Asians are making today, which is to name your daughter Jennifer, not Xiaoyuan, and that Hispanics and African-Americans, encouraged by people like you, are not making enough.

    1. I agree. I came this close to being named Giovanni as opposed to John. It wasn’t because my parents wanted to give me a unique name…it was a tradition to name a son after his grandfather. However, my grandfather realized that in the US, Giovanni might not be such a good idea for a name and encouraged my parents to name me John instead.

  20. Sorry, I can’t leave this alone.

    1) Couldn’t it be CharQuicia? Would that make a difference?

    2) I recall Michelle Obama talking about meeting Barack Obama. One of her friends wanted her to meet an “eligible” main. She had a lot of negative associations with his name. It “threw her off”, she said. Not sure what she meant by this, but she did say it. They named their girls Malia and Natasha. Malia is Hawaiian and slightly exotic, Natasha is pretty mainstream.

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