Subscribe via RSS Feed

Nomenclature Double Standards

[ 461 ] September 20, 2013 |

Jamelle Bouie is making sense:

But black children aren’t the only ones with unusual names. It’s not hard to find white kids with names like Braelyn and Declyn. And while it’s tempting to chalk this up to poverty—in the Reddit thread, there was wide agreement that this was a phenomenon of poor blacks and poor whites—the wealthy are no strangers to unique names. The popular Netflix show Orange is the New Black, written by a Jenji Kohan (a white woman), was based on the experiences of a Piper Kerman (also a white woman). And in last year’s presidential election, nearly 61 million people voted for a Willard Mitt Romney, at the same time that the current head of the Republican National Committee was (and is) a Reince Priebus.

On Twitter, riffing off of the Reddit thread, I mused on this double standard with a comment and a joke. “Seriously, I will take your ‘questions’ about ‘weird’ black names seriously when you make fun of Reince Priebus and Rand Paul,” followed by “White people giving their kids names like Saxby Chambliss and Tagg Romney is a clear sign of cultural pathology.” If names like “DeShawn” and “Shanice” are fair targets for ridicule, then the same should be true for “Saxby” and “Tagg.”

Most of my Twitter followers got what I was going for. But after it was retweeted by a widely followed conservative, I was deluged with angry complaints from a host of people—mostly white men—who didn’t get the punch line. “So, names like Jamelle, Mo’nique, [and] Trayvon are normal?” asked one self-proclaimed conservative. Likewise, another asked if “Jamelle, LaShonda, Trayvon, etc. are signs of advanced, successful, economically stable and crime free culture?”, which was followed by someone wondering if “names like LaShaniqua, Jamal, Porsche, Mercedes” would be our “future leaders.” Each illustrating my point that unusual black names are treated as evidence of cultural inferiority in a way that isn’t true of unusual white names.


Comments (461)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Shakezula says:

    which was followed by someone wondering if “names like LaShaniqua, Jamal, Porsche, Mercedes” would be our “future leaders.”

    Allow me to introduce President Barack Hussein Obama, motherfuckers.

  2. sharculese says:

    Thanks god we’ve disproved the notion that anyone could succeed going through life with a name like Benedict Cumberbatch. The notion is absurd.

  3. jackrabbitslim says:

    I work with a (white, middle-class) woman who named her first child Beckley. A girl. My standard response in that situation is to smile and say, “I’ve never heard that before!”

  4. sharculese says:

    At least parents who give their kids ‘black sounding’ names aren’t using their child’s identity to pay tribute to a murderous traitor, like white parents who name their sons Jackson.

  5. dl says:

    Obvious Anagram Reince Priebus

  6. bspencer says:

    This is weird. I’ve been thinking about writing an entry about surnames as first names–a trend I LOATHE–a mostly white phenomenon.

    • Anonymous says:

      What about geograpic names? That seemed to be a ’90’s thing. I knew twins named Sierra and Shasta.

        • LeeEsq says:

          Isn’t your son named Israel? Its not strictly a geographic name but Eretz Israel was always a geographic idea.

        • bspencer says:

          Shorter me: I pretty much hate all weird/cutesy/pretentious names. So I’m an equal opportunity hater.

          • Uncle Ebeneezer says:

            Why does that bother you so much? I get the offensiveness of a name paying tribute to a despicable person or event, or something that is just gonna cause misery for the kid because of teasing. But beyond that, it seems to me that there’s people who want to follow tradition/culture and people who want something more unique or want to break free of tradition.

            • bspencer says:

              It’s a quirk. I just find it irritating in the extreme. Can’t explain it.

            • Fighting Words says:

              I completely agree with bspencer regarding weird/cutsey/pretentious names. This is a pet peeve of mine that really bothers me. Now, I don’t say anything about it. But it does irritate me.

              In my case, I grew up with an uncommon name. Growing up, I was teased about it all the time. To this day, people still mispronounce it and misspell it. So when I hear someone say that they are giving their child an unusual name to “be different,” it just infuriates me. I know that some kids can work their unusual name, and more power to them. But for kids who get teased, having an unusual name is just another burden they are saddled with.

              I tend to be liberal on about 95% of issues. But on baby names, I really wish that we had Denmark’s naming laws.

              • Karen says:

                I think anyone who wants to give their kids a creative name should get a pet. Name the dog after Star Trek or Dr. Who characters and give your child a name that fits on both a construction paper animal in kindergarten and a business card for Secretary of State.

              • Shakezula says:

                I used to believe this, until I realized kids are vicious little fiends who will always find some reason to tease their peers.

                • Hogan says:

                  There is that. But we shouldn’t make it easy.

                • sophronia says:

                  I work with kids and it seems to me that between the vogue for creative names and heritage names, and the large number of immigrants in many public schools, kids are not really as concerned about enforcing normal sounding names as they were when I was young. When you spend your formative years sitting next to Rosario, Evangelica, Trinity and Xuo, the norms change. It’s adults who are the name police these days.

              • JL says:

                My name has to be one of the most common in the country, and people come up with all kinds of creative misspellings of it, and kids used to rhyme things with it to tease me.

                I say screw Denmark’s naming laws. I’d rather have a country that’s accepting of names from all sorts of linguistic and cultural traditions, even if it means that occasionally parents will name their kids something dumb.

        • jim, some guy in iowa says:

          you know how Ron Howard and his wife named their kids?

      • Erik Loomis says:

        Cheyenne. Dakota. Other places I don’t want to live.

        • Ann Outhouse says:


          • efgoldman says:


            • LeeEsq says:

              The last one might be named after the wine variety.

            • N__B says:

              But, we find Constance and Nancy perfectly acceptable.

              • LeeEsq says:

                Nancy is just a derivative of the name Hannah.

                • N__B says:

                  I have to believe that the given name comes from the city…if someone wanted to name their daughter Hannah, they would, right? Or am I missing your point?

                • Richard Hershberger says:

                  LeeEsq’s statement is true, but it skips some steps. Hannah is a Biblical Hebrew name. In Latin it became Anna, which in French turned into Anne (just as Julia became Julie, Maria > Marie, etc.). It was this form which was introduced into English, becoming popular around the 14th century or so.

                  Why so late? Because as a general rule of thumb, Old Testament names were not popular in the Medieval West (with a handful of exceptions such as David). Anne was a popular name among the Byzantines, and it moved west.

                  Old Testament names suddenly became popular after the Reformation. If you see some guy in the 17th century named something like Jeremiah, it is a good bet that his father was both Protestant and serious about it. So this is when we start to see Hannah reintroduced. It probably was regarded as a distinct name from Anne.

                  How does this tie in with Nancy? There is an old pattern of rhyming nicknames, often combined with shortening: Robert>Rob>Bob, William>Will>Bill, and so on. You also can add suffixes: Richard>Rick>Rickey. So with Anne, we get Anne>Nan>Nanny, and eventually that extraneous /s/ sound worked its way to to arrive at Nancy, in around the eighteenth century.

                  So putting this all together, Nancy comes from Anne comes from Hannah, with Hannah and Anne introduced into English as separate times.

                • Origami Isopod says:

                  As I understand it, it derives from Agnes, in which the g used to be silent. The “N” in certain English nicknames comes from the endearment phrase “Mine ____” in front of a name beginning with a vowel, so Edward became Ned, Ann became Nan, and Agnes became Nancy.

                • Origami Isopod says:

                  Jesus, I wrote that badly. The endearment phrase “Mine ____,” in which Mine precedes a name beginning with a vowel. The final n came to be apprehended as the initial consonant of the name. And “Nan” is a separate name from “Nancy.”

      • Adolphus says:

        I have seen a weird naming tradition among some poorer white families that names a child after something that reminds the parents of some aspect of the conception. I have middle name that used to be quite common among German immigrants to the US, but became almost unused after WWII for really good reasons. The only other men I have ever met with this name were so named because they were conceived at a specific luxury hotel in Dallas. (For me it is the name of a favored uncle. My parents have never been to Dallas) I have noticed other people my age with geographic names with similar stories.

        I have no idea how widespread it is but I find it odd. I also find it odd you would tell your child that story.

      • N__B says:

        What about geograpic names? That seemed to be a ’90′s thing.

        1890s, too. It was common for the clerks at the NY immigration station (Castle Clinton, later Ellis Island) to use town names as the last names of illiterate immigrants.

    • Vance Maverick says:

      It’s a “trend” of long standing. To pick an example entirely at random, I’m descended from one Mary Vance Maverick.

      • bspencer says:

        Actually, no. It’s a long-standing tradition, but it is a trend that has been embraced more of late. And usually these people are not giving their children family names, though I find it pretty gross either way.

        • Djur says:

          Sure, but that comes and goes as well over history. In the 1800s you had weird biblical and Latin names, especially in America. There’s a reason that a name like “Aloysius Augustus” summons to mind some kind of bewhiskered railway owner and “Jebediah” is some kind of grizzled old prospector or a Civil War soldier.

          And let’s not get started on Praise-God Barebone.

        • Vance Maverick says:

          I’m unconvinced. I’m sure we can all think of silly ones. Does anyone know who Winston Churchill was named after?

          • etv13 says:

            If you mean the 20th-century Englishman, he was named for his 17th-century ancestor, Winston Churchill, whose mother’s name was Sarah Winston.

          • Uncle Ebeneezer says:

            I would be curious to know if the rate of new names coming into common use really varies that much over time. Without the creation of new names, there wouldn’t be any at all.

            • Vance Maverick says:

              Within living memory, Italy had a state list of permitted first names. It’s been a few decades, but even when I was there ten years ago, I remember a couple going to court for the right to give their kid a double last name (the mother was Spanish).

              So names must always be aborning, but the impulse to control them is strong as well.

              • Jon C. says:

                France also used to limit baby’s names, but it appears they largely ended that practice a couple of decades ago ago around the time of the Maastricht Treaty.

                Only in 1993 were French parents given the freedom to name their child without any constraint whatsoever. However, if the birth registrar thinks that the chosen names (alone or in association with the last name) may be detrimental to the child’s interests, or to the right of other families to protect their own family name, the registrar may refer the matter to the local prosecutor, who may choose to refer the matter to the local court. The court may then refuse the chosen names. Such refusals are rare and mostly concern given names that may expose the child to mockery.
                To change a given name, a request can be made before a court (juge des affaires familiales), but except in a few specific cases (such as the Gallicization of a foreign name), it is necessary to prove a legitimate interest for the change (usually that the current name is a cause of mockery).

                • Anonymous says:

                  Se Finns have a sort of middle way: there is no list of approved names. Instead, we have certain rules. The name must be in Finnish or in Swedish and it cannot be a surname. It may be a new name but it must remain within the phonology of the domestic languages. In addition, the name must conform to the sex of the child.

                  Immigrants and other persona with family ties abroad may use their domestic naming conventions.

                  Surnames are even more closely regulated. No one may take a surname that is used by another Finnish person, unless the person is marrying or being adopted to the family. In addition, the new surname must be in Finnish or in Swedish. Essentially, it means that immigrants wishing to fennicize their names cannot choose a common surname but must either retain their old name or make up a Finnish-sounding name.

                  The registrar decides whether a name is acceptable. If the registrar declines, the parents may appeal to the courts.

    • Aimai says:

      My SIL named her son “Harrisson” because they are descended from President Harrisson. I mean that’s got just about everything. Waspy pride and a completely uninteresting and unimportant apical ancestor transformed into a first name.

    • MikeJ says:

      My middle name is my Mom’s maiden name, but happily it’s a perfectly cromulent forename too.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      Loath it all you like, but the trend is going on five hundred years old, so you should probably reconcile yourself to it. Recall that Lady Jane Grey’s husband’s name was Guildford Dudley. There also is a substantial batch of names which you probably don’t realize started out as surnames, unless you study onomastics as a hobby. “Douglas” is a classic example. The first person on record with that as a given name was a woman. The use of surnames as given names really hit its stride in the eighteenth century, often via middle names. Middle names can take either given names or surnames as their source, and so tend to confuse the issue.

    • Steph says:

      Yeah, agreed. In general, I have a bizarre set of rules that I think should apply to naming, although I fully appreciate this is my problem and I shouldn’t share it outside of a close circle of friends or, you know, this website.

      These include creative or cutsey spellings, pretentious sounding place names, especially when the place itself has questionable associations, and, yes, the last name as first name, especially when it’s not remotely a family name and double that when the “it’s such a pretty name” seems to ignore the literal meaning. Like Tanner.

      Madison’s close friend Addison seems to be popular around here among Cubs fans in particular. Being the name of a street doesn’t make the last name thing better, IMO.

      My mother’s mother was named Illinois because her family had a naming convention started generations ago of naming the first daughter Illinois after some pioneer ancestor’s first daughter who was born right after they settled in the state. My mother (and subsequently me) was delighted that her mother hated her name so much that she refused to continue the tradition.

    • (the other) Davis says:

      While there are some annoyances with being subject to that phenomenon, I’ve mostly appreciated my particular surname-as-first name–it’s unusual without being too weird.

    • WeWantPie says:

      It’s a very Southern thing, especially among daughters of the wealthy – they’ll give their daughter the mother’s family surname as a first name. I vividly remember dumping an old boyfriend because he fooled around with a toxic Southern belle whose first name was Prendergast. I am not kidding.

  7. LeeEsq says:

    Mercedes is an actual name if not used that much. Mercedes the car is named after Mercedes Jellinek, the daughter of banker Emil Jellinek, who required that the cars be named after his daughter as a condition of his investment.

  8. ploeg says:

    Let me know when they find somebody named “ploeg”. I’ll be waiting.

  9. LeeEsq says:

    All you gentiles give your kids weird names. ;). Jews tend to have a limited range, I swear that three out of every four boys I knew in school was either David, Daniel, or Michael, and two out of every four girls was either Sarah or Rachel, but at least they aren’t unusual for the most part. ;).

  10. sharculese says:

    Two-part first names is also weird, but that’s not going to stop me from naming my son John Connor.

  11. divadab says:

    I think the “Black names/white names” level of analysis is far too simplistic. In my (immigrant) observation, there are several American subcultures which are creative in their children’s given names. One is the Mormon subculture, where created baby names are frequent (at least as frequent as in black subcultures, IMHO): Trigg (Mormon Romney’s son), Suprena, Victrina, DeVon, ( a few names of personal acquaintances), all Mormon. Similarly, the hippy subculture is full of Aspens, Sky’s, etc.

    Honestly, how is “Mitt” or “Trigg” any less silly sounding than Laquisha?

    CHeers! With much love from

    Groovyhead Apollo Newton, III

  12. Rob in Buffalo says:

    “Track”, “Trig”, “Piper”, “Willow”, “Bristol”.

  13. RobNYNY1957 says:

    Jewish names seem to go through phases. My grandparents’ generation were Melvin, Sidney, Marvin, Harvey, Leonard, etc. My generation was Eric, Brian, Marc, Steven. I think what links them is that they sound WASPy (or at least not Jewish), but are not closely identified with Christian saints. But there are outliers. The actor Christian Campbell is Jewish. I also know one postwar Jew with the first name “Adolph.”

    • Manta says:

      “Marc” is not closely identified with a Christian saint?

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      I’ve always been fascinated by names like Melvin, Sidney, Marvin, Harvey, Leo, Julius, etc. (and for a slightly younger generation Eliot). They were no doubt adopted by my people because they sounded white and even WASPy. But as soon as we MOTs started using them, there went the neighborhood and they became Jewish names.

      • LeeEsq says:

        I have a cousin whose name is Leonard but he is also Sephardic, so Leonardo is a legitimate Spanish name. I’m probably one of the few Jews with a Jewish immigrant great-grandfather named Roberto.

        Fun family fact, basketball player, gambler, and gangster Jack Molinas was the cousin of my grandfather Jack. My grandfather’s mother Clara Bernardo nee Molinas was the sister of Jack Molinas’ father.

      • WeWantPie says:

        Me too, IB. Our grandparents all had names like Irving and Myrtle, Nathan and Selma, Hymie and Zelda; then our parents had names like Eric and Barbara and Frank and Joyce. Seems to me that Jewish children nowadays are much more likely to be given explicitly Jewish names like Yael, Yisroel, Rivkah, Rochel and Shlomo.

        • Bloix says:

          Irving and Nathan are about as different as two names can be. Irving is an old Scottish surname, originating as a place name (think Washington Irving, John Irving). Nathan is the name of an ancient Hebrew prophet, best known for condemning King David’s adultery with Baathsheba. (Nathan means “he (ie God) gave”). The names seem similar to you only because they were commonly given to Jewish boys a hundred years ago.

      • Steph says:

        I’m fascinated by the fact that early 20th century names tend to be horrible to our ears in the way most others are not. I inherited a bunch of research about family history and with some exceptions most, back to the 1600s, were classic and unobjectionable to my ears. But between, I dunno, 1880 and 1930, you get all sorts of atrocities like Elmer and Wilma and Alfred and Bernice, that I suspect were considered cutting edge and cool.

    • Aimai says:

      My spouse, like Andrew Patner, was one of the “last of the Scottish Jews.” There was a mid century vogue for names like Eric and Andrew which were scottish and possibly came from reading Sir Walter Scott.

      • Vance Maverick says:

        The topic is inexhaustible. Why, for a generation or two, did Jews in the German-speaking world (and elsewhere) take names like Siegfried and Sigmund? Today those names read like “No Jews Allowed”, but obviously it must not have seemed so at the time.

        • efgoldman says:

          Why, for a generation or two, did Jews in the German-speaking world (and elsewhere) take names like Siegfried and Sigmund

          Because Wagner hadn’t appropriated them yet, and the Nazis hadn’t appropriated Wagner yet.

          • Vance Maverick says:

            It’s clearly not that simple. Sigfried Giedion, for example, was born in 1888, more than a decade after the premiere of Siegfried the opera. And Wagner himself published On Jewry in Music in 1869 (not counting the earlier anonymous version).

            • Vance Maverick says:

              I think it must have been that assimilation was a powerful cultural force, and that these groups felt (rightly!) that they were part of German culture writ large. The disillusionment seems inevitable, but only in retrospect.

              • divadab says:

                Consider the sad story of Nobel laureate Fritz Haber, German-Jewish patriot who invented Phosgene gas to use in WWI against the allies. Later he developed Zyklon B which was used to assassinate many of his relatives in concentration camps.

                Can you imagine a Jewish child named Fritz today?

                • heckblazer says:

                  Phosgene was actually first used by the French, and was (and still is) a common industrial chemical first discovered in the 19th century. Zyklon B (“Cyclone B”) was the trade name of a pesticide; the very first gas chambers at Auschwitz were used to fumigate clothing for lice.

                • Vance Maverick says:

                  According to Wikipedia, his father was named…Siegfried.

                  I grew up in a family of chemists and chemical engineers, and the name Fritz Haber was still one to conjure with in 1980.

                • divadab says:

                  I stand corrected – Haber merely figured out the science of using poison gas (phosgene, mustard gas, chlorine gas) on the battlefield.

                  And yes, he did develop Zyklon A as an “insecticide” – because under the Versailles treaty, Germans were forbidden to work on developing any offensive weapons, including poison gases. It was represented as an insecticide to get around the treaty terms – but it was quite clear the his scientists were working on chemical weapons. Zyklon B also had the desirable side effect of killing the fleas on the corpses of the concentration camp victims it also killed. I suppose that you are right that this represents delousing – quite a radical delousing that also kills the hosts.

        • Bloix says:

          German Jews were the most assimilated Jews in the world. They spoke German, sent their chidren to German schools, and thought of themselves as completely German. (Jews served in the First World War at a rate considerably higher than that of non-Jewish Germans.)

    • Bloix says:

      Many Jews a hundred years ago gave their sons WASP last names. These were aspirational names and as Rob says they avoided problems with the use of Christian saints’ names: so, Sidney, Morris, Irving, Bennett, Stanley, Seymour, Howard, Morton, Martin, Harvey.

      Some of these names are so closely identified in the US as old-guy Jewish names that it’s hard to think of them as aristocratic English family names. But that’s what they are.

  14. Hogan says:

    There was an episode of Murphy Brown where she was considering baby names, and had settled on Winston Mahatma Brown. To which Miles replied, “Why don’t you just go ahead and name him Throw a Dodge Ball at My Head at Recess?”

  15. Shakezula says:

    And maybe it goes without saying, but this outpouring of bile from the Right Twits is particularly nasty, even for a group of people that seems to delight in consistently being beyond the pale.

    “Them damn n!ggers giving their kids names like [stereotypical names from racist jokes they like to tell] are destroying society!”

    • Djur says:

      Unfortunately, I’ve heard a decent amount of “dumb black name” jokes from liberals, although they at least try to mix in “dumb poor person names” and “dumb hick names” too.

      I don’t really see anything wrong with snickering about ridiculous names as long as it’s done generally. There are sites that simply aggregate posts from people on baby naming forums. The most hilarious post I read on one of those sites was from a woman whose kids were named something like “Hunter Ruger” and “Colt Ryder”.

      To be honest, most of the “weird” names people cite as stereotypically black seem pretty reasonable to me. “DeShawn” and “Shaniqua” may be a little bit fanciful, but they sound like names and they’re not needless respellings of other names (I’m looking at you, “Jaycen”). There were girls at my middle school named “Precious” and “Unique”, which doesn’t seem much different from “Charity” and “Faith”, etc.

      All the “this lady thought the hospital named her daughter Female” stuff comes from a pretty foul place, though.

      • Shakezula says:

        As I said above, I have a WASPY but uncommon name. I grew up with kids who had names like LaMoy (actual name). Not to mention all of the kids from Haiti, Cambodia, &c.

        Even if I didn’t have an unusual name, snickering at unusual names would have been a good way to get your ass kicked up between your shoulder blades in my neighborhood.

        But snickering isn’t what’s happening in that Twitter response. These people are angered by “different” and supposedly “black” names. And they’re blaming social ills on those names.

      • Aimai says:

        That urban legend was retold on a 70’s cop show Cagney and Lacey. They meet a black female prostitute (of course!) who says her name is Female (pronounced femmalley).

        • Djur says:

          Over at that Daily Beast article, there’s no fewer than three people who claim to have encountered someone named “Shithead”.

          I haven’t kept track, but I fairly regularly read people claim that they’ve encountered a kid named Shithead or Female, in the ob/gyn ward or in their class. I’d have to say I’ve read at least 30 people claim to have direct knowledge of such a child in the last 10 years, and the story has been told countless times over the last few decades about a friend or a friend-of-a-friend, etc.

          And yet, as far as I can tell, none of these Shitheads or Females have ever done anything notable enough to be named in a newspaper or any public record. Not even in the crime blotter.

          • Cheap Wino says:

            My ex’es racist parents (her mom was a 3rd grade teacher of all things) used to delight in telling the shithead story as if it happened at her school complete with the what could you expect from ‘those’ people etc. implications. I was repulsed.

            Ironically their daughter turned out to be a real shithead, but I digress.

            • Djur says:

              On the Daily Beast article and the Deadspin article someone else linked I’ve already counted eight sightings of the Lemonjello/Oranjello twins — all people claiming to have personally witnessed these children, of course.

              I am willing to believe some of these stories as personal sightings — someone mentions a kid named “Ampersand”, and I’m fine believing that. There are absolutely much weirder names out there.

              The problem with “Female”, “Shithead”, the Jello twins, etc. is twofold. First, they’re frequently told as personal stories, and it’s simply not credible that so many Jello twins are out there without any of them being credibly documented. Second, they assume a level of ignorance or not-giving-a-shit far beyond the level required for “Ampersand”.

          • Lee Rudolph says:

            And yet, as far as I can tell, none of these Shitheads or Females have ever done anything notable enough to be named in a newspaper or any public record. Not even in the crime blotter.

            I did once (c. 1982), while transcribing the night-court rulings (not quite the crime blotter but close) into copy for the local paper while employed as an assistant copy-editor, find a woman charged with street-walking who had supplied the court with the name “Genita L.” some-family-name-or-other.

      • Coastsider says:

        Well those jokes can go both ways – Key & Peele: Substitute Teacher Jay-qwellen would be a great name.

        Of course you could always name your kid L’Carpetron Dookmarriot…

      • JSC_ltd says:

        I have a cousin named Winchester Remington Sharps [last name]. He’s only sort of rednecky, somehow.

  16. Djur says:

    Mercedes is, as mentioned above, an old and respectable name. Porsche is frequently confused with Portia, also an old name. I grew up knowing a Mercedes and a Portia, both from white, well-off families.

    Jamal is a perfectly respectable Arabic name, too. It seems that the objectionable thing is not the name, but the color of the named person.

    • Djur says:

      Also, apparently the idea of a leader named Jamal is funny. Someone shoulda told this loser.

    • Shakezula says:

      Yes. I kind of get the feeling that if blacks parents only named their kids Martha and George from here on out that would be seen as sinister.

      And they wonder why we call them racist doucheholes.

      • Djur says:

        I think there’s sort of three different things going on.

        There are some names which are just somewhat more common among African-Americans, even if the name was originally “white”. Tyrone, Anthony, Marcus, etc. It’s common for the popularity of names to vary between ethnic communities, like someone above mentioned for common Jewish names. Thirty years ago, the example names would have been different.

        You have “black” names, of the sort mentioned in the original article, where Arabic, Swahili, and other types of names were being consciously embraced as an expression of solidarity and culture. There are also some mildly fanciful variations on these names, combinations of them with more traditional names, etc. None of these names should be that outrageous, and yet they’re frequently cited in such lists. I think that’s telling.

        And then you have genuinely wackadoo names, which occur all over the spectrum, but do tend to be slightly more frequent among very poor or very rich people. I note that the original Reddit poster cited names like that: “D’brickishaw, Barkevious D’quell”. There’s also the “Colt Hunter Ruger” types I mentioned above, “Makynzy”, “Apple”, “Bronx Mowgli”, etc. etc.

        And I think all three of these end up being blended together into “black people have weird names”, where “Tyrone” and “Jamal” and whatever Scrabble name you choose are seen as points in a spectrum of black otherness, rather than three completely distinct phenomena.

      • MikeJ says:

        blacks parents only named their kids Martha and George from here on out that would be seen as sinister.

        Watch a movie from the 30s or 40s. It’s a bit of a cliché that the bootblack will be named for a president.

  17. Calming Influence says:

    It’s not just white kids and black kids either. The Jolly Green Giant named his kid “Sprout”.

  18. DrDick says:

    I have to say that a lot of my white, mostly Montanan student have unusual names as well. Sharelle, Mackenzie, Berkeley, Quinn, Kaylee, just to name a few random folks in my classes.

      • Thlayli says:

        Just about every girl born in this country in 1985 was named “Hailey”, or some veriant thereof.

      • DrDick says:

        Hailey and Caitlin are quite common (they just did not show up in the first 40 people on my class roster – out of 140).

        • Bloix says:

          True story:

          Fifteen years ago I was on a committee that met every few months. One of the women in the group, Joan, became pregnant, disappeared for a while, and came back. Everyone asked about the new baby – a little girl, said Joan proudly, named Caitlin. What a lovely name, the women cooed – except for one, Frances, who was from Ireland. “Caitlin? I’ve never haird thet name. What sort of a name is it?” “Why, Frances,” says Joan, “it’s an Irish name.” “Noo,” says Frances, puzzled. “We doon’t have thet name.” This goes on for a while, and finally Frances says, “Will you spell it for me?” C-A-I-T-L-I-N,” says Joan. “Ah,” says Frances. “Cat-LEEN!”

  19. I worked at a place with a bunch of Kabbalah devotees who all changed their names to make the numbers in them work out right. They all wound up with made-up names that nevertheless all seemed to evoke evil-yet-successful soap-opera characters.

    • bspencer says:


    • N__B says:

      A real person I have researched* who lived in the mid and late nineteenth century: Balthasar Kreischer. Tell me he shouldn’t be wearing a black cloak and twirling a mustache.

      *He patented a terra cotta floor shortly after the Chicago fire, ran a huge terra cotta works in NYC.

    • NonyNony says:

      Oh. My. Grod.

      It’s like your previous employer was something out of a Grant Morrison comic book.

      If there isn’t story involving a nefarious organization that requires all of the henchmen in its employ to change their names so that their Kabbalistic significance works out to the benefit of the group there damn well should be.

  20. Gareth Wilson says:

    Subjective judgements about the sillyness of black names aside, there’s a real phenomenom here. Black names have been getting more distinctively black over the last few decades. Just pointing to some silly white names doesn’t contradict the overall pattern.

  21. Trollhattan says:

    A humble plea to expecting parents: consider whether an exotic name for your child is in their best interest, should they grow to be utterly average. It’s easy for the beautiful, athletic and successful to “live up to” a unique name, oftentimes less so for the B- student who can’t throw a mean slider, kill the SATs or compete for homecoming king. You’re gifting it to the child, not making your new little accessory seem kewhl.

    Now please excuse me, I have to pick up little Homelite from school.

  22. Nick Z says:

    An ad popped up on my Facebook for an Etsy retailer selling jewelry that can be customized with your children’s name. The woman in the photo accompanying the ad is white, and the names on the necklace are Jaxon, Demi, and Brogan. Quite the names, those are.

    Deadspin’s Drew Magary was all over this a few months ago

  23. Aimai says:

    Everybody should run, not walk, to read The Mountain of Names. Alex Shoumatoff’s book about the nature and history of naming customs. the Mountain of Names refers to the Mormon mountain repository of geneaologies that they use to rebaptize the dead. The history of specifically AFrican American names is fascinating and is distinctive both because of Slavery and because of the African roots of some naming patterns including a very ancient custom of naming the child for the day of the week on which it was born.

  24. Thlayli says:

    The thing that really annoys me is the backwards-spelling thing. “Nevaeh” was popular among the fundies for a while. There is a prominent case of a bullying death where the victim’s name was “Rehtaeh”.

  25. John Revolta says:

    I useta know a black guy named Voy. (I think I heard of another such guy a few years back also too). Does anybody have any idea where that comes from?

  26. RobNYNY1957 says:

    In the south, white people of a certain class give only nicknames to their kids. I know a Larry Bob, a Billy Joe, a Betty Lou.

    Where I grew up in the upper Midwest, Kim, Lynn, Lorie, Gayle, Laverne and Jan were popular names. Popular men’s names.

  27. Icarus Wright says:

    Welcome to Fun city.

    GENDER: Masculine
    USAGE: Ancient Scandinavian

    Meaning & History
    Old Norse name composed of the elements regin “advice, counsel” and valdr “ruler” (making it a cognate of REYNOLD).

    Related Names
    OTHER LANGUAGES: Raginald, Reinald, Reinhold (Ancient Germanic), Ragnvald (Danish), Reinout (Dutch), Reginald, Reynold, Ronald, Reg, Reggie, Ron, Ronnie, Ronny (English), Reino (Finnish), Renaud, Reynaud (French), Reinhold (German), Raghnall (Irish), Rinaldo (Italian), Ragnvald (Norwegian), Reinaldo, Reynaldo, Ronaldo (Portuguese), Raghnall, Ranald, Ronald (Scottish), Reinaldo, Reynaldo (Spanish), Ragnvald (Swedish), Rheinallt (Welsh)

  28. guthrie says:

    Why am I getting the idea that some people are trying to fulfil the plot of Clarke’s short story “Nine billion names of God”, only by making sure that there’s at least one person on the planet with each name?

    • Icarus Wright says:

      Ah yes

      This short story tells of a Tibetan lamasery whose monks seek to list all of the Names of God, since they believe the Universe was created in order to note all the names of God and once this naming is completed, God will bring the Universe to an end. Three centuries ago, the monks created an alphabet in which they calculated they could encode all the possible names of God, numbering about 9,000,000,000 (“nine billion”) and each having no more than nine characters. Writing the names out by hand, as they had been doing, even after eliminating various nonsense combinations, would take another 15,000 years; the monks wish to use modern technology in order to finish this task more quickly.

      They rent a computer capable of printing all the possible permutations, and they hire two Westerners to install and program the machine. The computer operators are skeptical but play along. After three months, as the job nears completion, they fear that the monks will blame the computer, and by extension its operators, when nothing happens. The Westerners delay the operation of the computer so that it will complete its final print run just after their scheduled departure. After their successful departure on ponies, they pause on the mountain path on their way back to the airfield, where a plane is waiting to take them back to civilization. Under a clear night sky they estimate that it must be just about the time that the monks are pasting the final printed names into their holy books. Then they notice that “overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.”

      Always enjoyed that one.

  29. The Lovely Daughter won’t stop watching this nitwit:

    Feel free to watch every last goddamned video.

  30. Matt says:

    Two words for RW loons freaking out about ‘weird names’: “Dagny Taggart”.


  31. Bitter Scribe says:

    I have an unusual first name and it has been an experience I would not wish on anyone. My father insisted on it and reportedly said, “Well, he’ll just have to learn to fight.” Thanks, Dad.

  32. Alan in SF says:

    A baker’s dozen from the Awl’s list, culled from BBC credits. Probably shiftless blahs, every one of them…

    Eunice Montjoy
    Antonia Pemberton
    Cedric Kerr
    Fitz-Lloyd Smith
    Imogen Bickford-Smith
    Camilla Griffith-Jones
    Gillian Tullett
    Nuala Alen-Buckley
    Pip Torrens
    Cyril Swern
    Laurence Luckinbill
    Celestia Fox
    Royston Munt

  33. tt says:

    The premise seems false, at least if taken in its strongest sense. People do make fun of every single name mentioned in the quote. And at least in the case of the Palin kids, there is often implication of cultural inferiority. Obviously, its worse for black people, because more racism is directed against black people in general, but I suspect whites also pay some social cost for names which are seen as low class.

  34. Manju says:

    I don’t know anyone named Strom. But I know plenty of Roberts. Explain that, Liberals!

  35. Major Kong says:

    My last name comes from one of Genghis Khan’s grandsons.

    I have no idea how that happened.

  36. sparks says:

    This week we had a Pax Dickinson, which is either a huge passive-aggressive swipe at a newborn, or a preconfession of a crime. And people obsess over names like Shaniqua and Jamal?

  37. John Protevi says:

    I’m thinking that a proud and / or clueless (but I repeat myself) teahadi is going to name his kid Peak Wingnut.

  38. MAJeff says:

    Seriously, what the fuck is up with the name Siobhan?

    • Major Kong says:

      It’s a fairly common Irish (female) name I believe.

    • Origami Isopod says:

      Irish cognate of Joan or Joanna. Strangely, anglicized as “Judith.”

    • Bloix says:

      Irish spelling has very little to do with English spelling. Both languages use the Latin alphabet, but many of the letters stand for different sounds and the conventions are different.

      For example, in English we use the combination Sh for the “sh” sound. In Irish, they use Si or Se. (Sort of like how in English ce- or ci- is the “s” sound.)

      And “bh” and “mh” in Irish can be either the “v” sound or the “w” sound, depending on the following vowel.

      So Sean is “shawn” and Siobhan is “shu-vawn,” and don’t forget Niamh – “neev.”

  39. Eli Rabett says:

    Eli’s Aunt Gelda was named Sadie.

  40. Major Kong says:

    My grandmother was named “Hazel”. There’s one you don’t seen any more.

    • John Revolta says:

      Better not let Mrs. Revolta hear ya say that, flyboy…………

    • LeftWingFox says:

      I love it, but then, it’s also the color of my eyes, and the boss bunny from Watership Down.

    • efgoldman says:

      My mom (born 1917) was Mildred. Don’t see that much, either. Her older sisters were Martha and Etta, her oldest brother was Meyer, but no one not of his or his parent’s generation ever called him anything but Mike.
      mrs efgoldman’s maternal grandmother, born in Wales, was Enid. Her daughter (mrs efgoldman’s aunt) “June” is actually Enid Junior. My mother in law is Dorothea Elaine, but goes by her middle name.

  41. philadelphialawyer says:

    Rand Paul’s first name, in full, is Randal, which is usually shortened to Randy, and not particularly unusual (although the full version is more often spelled with two “l”s at the end). So I really don’t think that qualifies. Paul was not, contrary to popular legend, named after Ayn Rand.

  42. sophronia says:

    To this day, the worst name I’ve ever heard came from a white Mormon family who named their daughter Nixin. Gender confusion? Check. Misspelling? Check. Honoring a thoroughly revolting historical personage? Check. It’s a trifecta.

  43. For me, the question really isn’t “Boy, don’t some people name their kids some crazy things”, it’s more “Ain’t picking out another human being’s name kind of weird from the get-go?” A person’s first real marker of identity, and some other person picks it out for you, sometimes before you were born and always based on some sort of logic that some other people are going to make fun of at some point or another. The wrong name can screw a kid up, and it’s a massive pain in the ass to get it changed. You can’t depend on nicknames, either. I was stuck being called a character from “The Addams Family” all through high school.

    We should let kids pick their own names. First, as soon as they can grasp the concept, then at say 8, then around 15, one more time at 18 and at 21, you’ve got to pick one and run with it. So, if someone has to go through life named after the Highlander – or, indeed, “The Highlander Smith” or something like that – it’s their choice.

    Other thoughts, since this is a long-ass thread anyway. I’ve never met anyone under the age of 48 with my first name (which isn’t Matthew, that’s my middle name). It’s one of those nicknamed names, like Ricky or Billy or Jimmy, that Southerners like so much. Luckily, I didn’t get a “Lee” as a second name, ’cause I know a whole mess of Ricky Lees. I was named after a character in a ’60s TV Western, though, so I won’t give my cousins who named their kids after “Dancing With The Stars” contestants, any sort of guff.

    Finally, I work with a kid named Herman. Named after his grandfather. He’s in his early 20s, and basically your typical New Orleans street kid who grew up in the Melph trying to make something of his life. Most of the guys in my kitchen fit that mold, and frankly, with one exception, have a fairly WASP-y sounding collection of names. All of ’em have nicknames, though, except Herman. The logic is, no one’s going to every ask “which Herman” in the hood. He says once he gets his life right and taken care of all his business (raising his kids, mainly), he’s getting his name changed. He don’t care if ain’t ’till he’s 65, he’s changing his goddamn name.

  44. James E. Powell says:

    Damn, but this a surprisingly long discussion. So long I wonder if it’s over, but I will chime in anyway.

    The multiple names that sound like surnames for white people is an attempt to make their children sound like old money.

    The real old money people give their children three or four names that sound a series of towns in England, but usually turn out to be the surnames of the ancestors who made the money.

    Also too, the really rich ones have names like Hayward Wheatley Farthingshire, but everyone in their family calls them something like “Pinkie” – after a favorite dead uncle.

    • efgoldman says:

      Damn, but this a surprisingly long discussion.

      Got a long way to go to catch Loomis’ ketchup thread.

    • Tyro says:

      Also too, the really rich ones have names like Hayward Wheatley Farthingshire, but everyone in their family calls them something like “Pinkie” – after a favorite dead uncle.

      The use of a nickname that has nothing to do with your actual name seems to happen both at the top of the class ladder and the bottom. Those of us in the middle can’t get away with something like that.

  45. Tom Paine Caucus says:

    Key and Peele settled this debate last year.

  46. […] when I’d hear one of the new cutesy names dumb middle-class white people were naming their little snowflakes, I’d say through gritted teeth “That’s not a real name.” Of course, that […]

  47. g says:

    My three brothers and I all have vaguely Scottish names, which, coupled with our Scotch-Irish surname gave us the quintuple syllabic verbal impression of dancing a jig. Two of our vaguely Scottish names are somewhat mainstream – Gordon and Stuart. But the other two names are constantly subject to spelling inquiries, or being confused with something else entirely.

    We grew up in a midwest small town where everyone else our age was either Scandinavian or Irish, so our classmates were all named Mary, Susie, Tommy or Johnny. There were at least four Marys in my class at school.

    I have no idea why my parents decided to name us this way. But maybe it was inevitable. My German-American mother’s siblings were named Bob, Raymond and Frank, but oddly enough, her name was Otillie. My father’s family had names like Snow, Hattie and Louie Boyd – she was a girl.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.