Saturday, December 06, 2008

What's in a name?

Names are important to me. Regardless of what your name is, it is your name. It is part of who you are and should be valued.

It's interesting to me whose names we overlook and whose we choose to berate. Usually, the names we sarcastically talk about are Black.

This came to mind yet again when I listened to Jon Stewart on The Daily Show as he talked about Saxby Chambliss's recent Senate win in Georgia and commented on the "fancy name bearer, Saxby Chambliss."

Yet, on another recent episode he makes fun of Plaxico Burress commenting that he was "named after the plastics company." Stephen Colbert also took a jab at Plaxico's name as he described the incident of Plaxico shooting himself in the thigh saying, "Who's really at fault here? ...Whoever named him Plaxico."

So, let me get this straight...Saxby Chambliss is a "fancy name," but Plaxico Burress is "named after a plastics company." Frankly, I don't see the difference.

To be fair, Jon Stewart also makes fun of Sarah Palin's kid's names in a segment where Rob Riggle sarcastically comments, "I’ve got, like, 20 kids: Slag, Truck, Quandary, Glump, Chug, Turnip, Rockhammer…" And I have to admit, Todd Palin did get quite a bit of press for his explaining, "Sarah’s parents were coaches and the whole family was involved in track and I was an athlete in high school, so with our first-born, I was, like, ‘Track!’ Bristol is named after Bristol Bay. That’s where I grew up, that’s where we commercial fish. Willow is a community there in Alaska. And then Piper, you know, there’s just not too many Pipers out there and it’s a cool name. And Trig is a Norse name for 'strength.'”

But even Bill Cosby, at the Brown v. Board gala in May 2004, jumps in to talk negatively about Black names stating, "…with names like Shaniqua, Taliqua and Mohammed and all of that crap, and all of them are in jail.”

I know what you're probably thinking... Bill Cosby was right...because look at Plaxico...he's now going to jail. So, if Bill Cosby's right and Plaxico was destined to go to jail because his mom named him that, why aren't those kinds of statements made for White children?

The same weight is not put on a White child with an odd name. When I bring up the odd White names I know, the White people I've talked to seem to think the names they name their kids are unique. No one in my family seems to question my aunt Classie Jane, my great-grandmother Alphabet (yes, that is her real name), or my cousins Afton, Blakely, Kannon, and Cutter. Yet, say, "Shaniqua" and eyebrows raise.

Many of my Black friends are proud that their names are "simple" and "common" names like Jennifer or Dave. They've explained to me that their parents named them that on purpose so they wouldn't be as discriminated against when they got older and were looking for jobs or just telling someone their name. Studies have shown that resumes with "white sounding names" were 50% more likely to be contacted for job interviews.

Who ever made the decision of what is a "good" or "acceptable" name and what isn't?? If the majority of names had been names like "Shaniqua," maybe "Janet" would be the odd name out.

Instead of always talking about how other people should change their names or stop naming their kids "strange" names, maybe we should think about changing ourselves and our way of thinking. Maybe the problem doesn't lie within the person choosing the name...but, instead, maybe the problem lies within us.
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