Why I like Salon writers

They take the time to research and explain cultural phenomena, like the perceived heightened creativity  of African American names, complete with race, class, and gender analysis. David Zax responds to the ridicule black names receive with a break down of the history and realities of African American naming:

Much of this ridicule is either misguided or misleading. Exhibit A in the attack on black names is often a story about black schoolchildren that some friend of a friend met named Urine or Shithead, Chlamydia or Gonorrhea, or Lemonjello or Oranjello. Neither Lieberson nor Cleveland Evans (former president of the American Names Society) has ever encountered black people with such names, but Lieberson notes that the (white) comedian Dana Carvey chose the name Dex for his child after a bottle with the word “dextrose” on it, and Evans has more than once encountered a young woman on a baby name Web site (most often visited by whites) who rather likes the ring to the name Veruca, a character from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Roald Dahl chose that name carefully for the bratty girl he assigned it to: It’s a medical term for a wart.

As for those “Luxury Latch-ons,” it is true that an unfortunate culture of naming children after brands of champagne or fancy cars has sprung up over recent years. “But that’s a class thing, not a race thing,” says Cleveland Evans, noting that he has encountered twins named Camry and Lexus who were white. If you are poor and wish a better life for your kid, a name like Lexus declares that hope. With this in mind, much of the gainsaying in the black blogosphere smacks of classism: Many commenters call the unusual names “ghetto,” and Cosby’s jeremiad was essentially an attack on the black poor. (His assertion that “all of them are in jail” is, to say the least, dubious; an economic study by “Freakonomics'” Levitt and Roland G. Fryer showed several years ago that distinctively black names in themselves do not cause a negative life outcome — vivid evidence of which is seen on the Olympic roster and at the Democratic National Convention.

Of course, the vast majority of unusual black names are nothing like Clitoria or Tanqueray. They are names like — to page at random through “Proud Heritage” — the catchy Maneesha and Tavonda, the magisterial Orencio and Percelle, or the evocative Lakazia and Swanzetta. They are names emerging from a tradition of linguistic and musical invention much like those that gave us jazz and rap. And they are names that have paved the way for Americans of all classes and colors to begin to loosen up a stodgy culture of traditional name giving.

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One Response

  1. Thanks for that link. I get SO ANNOYED with people who make fun of “culturally different” names. Yeah, I think naming your kid “Eros” is… misguided (didn’t meet that kid, but knew he was in the school I worked based on seeing his work up from time to time, and I think there were like 3 white kids in the school total, so), but it was white people who gave us Moon Unit, okay? and Apple. Wacky names, common to many cultures it seems, aside, how exactly is “Shaniqua” weirder than “Veronica”? Why is Dayquan hilarious to the point where I can’t tell my white friends a story about a kid named Dayquan without some sort of “hee. Dayquan” snickering happening, but they can hear about Edgar and keep a straight face? THEY’RE NAMES. People pick them because they sound cool, same reason you want to name your kid Heather, okay? Get over it.

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