Our names are more than just who we are. When one calls you by name, he is calling on the forefathers of both your parents, and their parents. It is the label on your family tree, an heirloom passed down to you that only a special few carry. It is the glue that bonds men and women and children who have never met; the genetic twins you have yet to meet who live a possible parallel universe. Those who share your name have the same physical characteristics–they look like you. They have the same butt you have (or not). They share your great-great grandfather’s knack for music, your great-great-grandmother’s love of cooking, the curly texture of your now-blonde hair: Time has forgotten where these traits came from.
Or maybe it has not.
Your name is sometimes referred to in some cousin you once shared a crib with; it’s his father’s name also. His father was named after his great-uncle, who was named after his grandfather–who changed his name from another name when he arrived to America many generations before. And your great-grandmother once told your mom that anyone with an alternate spelling to your new name, who have Greek/West African/Indian features… is a distant cousin. Perhaps you forgot where you heard the stories, or maybe you told your children the little you know. There is a reason why June 15th is such a special date in your family: 8 family members have this birth date. There are 4 William Herberts in your family, and the first was named after his father’s slave owner. Every second-born in your family had a set of twins named after their father’s father, and a name that rhymed.
Your name is a window into the soul of who you are. It tells a story and draws a picture of certain branches of your family tree. It is also your ethnic social security number, and tells people who hear it where the bearer is from, what ethnicity his parents are, what their religion may have been, what era they grew up in, and what life they were living at the time you were born. There is no shame in a name, unless your parents named you while drunk and were watching an episode of “Troy”–and you’re Chinese.
Yeah, that’s right. If you’re Chinese, “Achilles” just doesn’t seem normal. On the other hand, if you are Latino, a name like “Luis” is fitting. If you’re French, Robert (“Robere“) shouldn’t embarass you. But if your parents lived in Hawaii when you were born–and you’re Filipin0–being named “Keoke” is not strange to someone who isn’t familiar with that name, yet it is understandable.
Here’s my point.
If a young Black woman who is from Urban Black America decides to name her son Trayvon or Deontè, why is that so strange? Is it within our culture to make up names? Is Black American culture–excuse me, urban Black American culture–not valid enough to have names that give you away? Have you ever met children of Christian families named Ester, Josiah, and Abraham? Or Muslims named Mike that name their sons Mohammad? If you meet a White man named Brad, that seems normal. Wouldn’t it seem strange if you found a Black man named “Brad”? Or an Asian? If you met my cousin Ching-Ching, you probably wouldn’t think it strange, but if you met his Black father–you might raise an eyebrow. Except my cousin doesn’t look Black at all.
I have heard that we shouldn’t name our kids “ghetto” names because the Shaniqua’s and Jontay’s might have their resume’s thrown in the trash because potential employers might know they’re Black and “ghetto”…
Excuse me, but I thought discrimination in this country was unacceptable. I thought as Black people, we were above that. Supposedly, we educate ourselves for equal opportunity, send our children to church to get a spiritual foundation, tell them how beautiful and smart they are to build up their self-esteem–and then tell them to defraud their employers to hide the fact that they’re Black? As if Black men named Herman are supposed to be more intelligent and employable than Black “LaMonts”! Sounds like somebody believes pretty damned strongly in stereotyping.
Black folks, you must be above that. This is our culture. A Black man from Georgia named Tobias is no more uncouth than a Black man from DC named Delonte and neither is less intelligent than a Black man from Sacramento named Michael. If you are guilty of discriminating against your own brothers and sisters from the inner city–even those from below the poverty line–how can you ever expect that White man to respect YOU? Because you can attend the Ivy League universities, “clean up” your diction, change your name to Charles, and disassociate yourself from all Black people with less than a Bachelor’s degree–and if the man on the other side of the desk is racist, he will still see a Black man.
Question, do you know what they call Black PhD’s behind closed doors of the country clubs and board rooms in America?
They call him a Nigger.
You ain’t no different from those of us who were named after cars (Lexus and Diamonte) and combined names (Rayvon). If every man is to be judged by the content of his character and not the color of his skin, the least you can do is stand tall in the light of your ethnicity and shine as brightly as possible in the Blackness of your skin. Wear it proudly, and love who you were and where you came from. Even if you claim River Terrace and Mayfair and Langley Park as your hood. Because those things don’t define you, yet they define you. Your name introduces you, your upbringing, your experiences, your people, and all you had to overcome to get here.
What we call “ghetto names” are the names that are unique to Black people who decided not to name their children after white people and their culture. Each “ghetto name” has a reason and a story, even if that “reason” is that it sounds good. It is something that is cultural to the beautiful Black people that Slavery and segregation produced. It may be mispelled because the mother had an 8th grade education. It may be missing a last name because the father died in a gun battle over turf or drugs. It may have three middle names because the mother had three favorite brothers and she couldn’t decide so she combined their names. It may show that the bearer is from the project Southeast DC, or the burroughs of NYC, or small, impoverished town in Alabama. But the fact that this kid, with all his history and obstacles, is sitting before you with a college degree from a four year university tells his future employer that this candidate can come from nothing and match the intelligence and credentials of a white kid from an upper middle class upbringing and will be an awesome addition to the company. He is a living, breathing Phoenix, and knows struggle like the back of his soul and can leap over his underdog status in a single bound. Despite having Black skin that turns some men’s stomachs. Despite having several drug addicts in the family. Despite being hated by many of those placed above him who want to see him fail. Few men can trample the path he just arrived from and do what he did. That name tells you that a Black man is coming, who just got here from 400 years of slavery and 100 years of discrimination, and now he is just as qualified for that job as any white kid who was a descendant of his oppressor.
How can you not be proud of that?
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