My Name is My Name: Why We Need to Do Better in Naming Our Children

February 6, 2012  |  

A few years ago, when I was in the basement of a barbershop waiting to get a chop, I waited with a young 20-something black woman who had a 3-year old running about the shop. My barber Janet asked her of her boy’s name, and this is what she had to say:


Another older sista waiting – doing what older sistas do – asked the mother: “Well, does he even know how to spell his own name???”

“He’s working on it,” she said sweetly. “He’s got about half of it down.”

As of late, it seems like I’ve been having many conversations related to the tendency of black parents – especially of humble background – to come up with grammatical manglings of names masquerading as creative expression. I’ve heard a small band of defenders explain that it’s a display of our cultural eccentricities and creativity that reveal names like the monstrosities above. Q’Kavarimantis. Really???

Being creative is cool, but I think we’ve come to a point–black folks and all folks really (yes, you too celebrities)–where the names we’re choosing for our children are going a bit too far. Here are why these damn names can be a big problem:


  1. Pointless creativity: Coming up with names that run in the family or stand for something deep is one thing; subverting them as a result of trying to be “unique” is dead wrong. Changing a perfectly classic name like “Alexander” to “Alezandear” and keeping the same pronunciation is not the righteous way to go. Making “Alexia” to “Alexuscia” will only make your child hate you for having to explain to people how that name came about countless times by the age of 35.


  1. They need to be employed someday: I’m a schoolteacher of young black boys and girls. So it should go without saying that I see and hear more over-the-top names than I care to share. Every now and again, I come across a doozy; what person in their free-thinking mind’s eye would come up with the name “Chandelier,” make it legal for the courts and send your child off with the expectation that it wont be an obstacle in the future? While we would love to assume that individuals aren’t shallow enough to judge a person by their name off the top, I’m sure no one reading this was born last night. It obviously happens.


  1. Phonetic mess: As an English teacher, I cant deal with the silent “j” and “s” that populate these names. I can’t deal with “L-ia” being pronounced “Ladashia” or the -leigh taking place of the -ley and having your child get mad at me for saying it wrong. Can’t do it. And you shouldn’t do it either.


  1. You don’t want your kids angry with you: You don’t want them to feel the need to run and get their name changed the minute they turn 18 do you? I have a unique-yet-common-enough first name, and I’ve been dealing with the blow back from it since I was in short pants. But the random jokes that come from my real name are nothing compared to the ridicule names that no other human on earth have outside of your child get. What’s wrong with “Andrew”? Is there a problem with “Tracy”? Hell, if you wanna go cultural, run with Malik! But there’s no accounting for “Dejalatasia” or some such name that will take your kids through hell on the playground. Some kids can be truly harsh (damn near evil) by nature, and those names are like giving them a handful of rocks aimed directly at your child.


  1. Don’t put absurd expectations on your child through their name: “Diamond.” “Essence.” “Precious.” “Heaven.” “Princess.” Not made-up names, but your daughter could be the second coming of Halle Berry in her prime and this would still make her look like a narcissist. And if she doesn’t end up looking like a “Diamond,” then you have got a lot of explaining to do. Plus, it’s hard to have a name like “Joy” if this young lady has an attitude more suited for a name like “Vicious.” Just keep these things in mind…


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