Are Black Parents Attacked for Using “Ethnic” Names?

November 2, 2010  |  

What’s in a name? Almost everything, apparently.

During the The Black Power movement of the 1960s, folks dumped what they deemed as “slave names” and opted for the more meaningful Afro-centric ones.  Back then, blacks repossessed their names, and that was good.  But was the “new black name revolution” good for all?

Some parents just opted to make up their own names…like my cousin, who named her first child after a Nissan model she liked, “Celica”…or like moms who name their kids in a manner that pays homage to the drunken binge that helped conceive them, like Alizé or Courvoisier.  (Yes,  these are REAL names of REAL people).

Comedians joke about those names too.  Remember Eddie Murphy’s “Umfufu,” from Raw? How about Martin Lawrence’s alter ego, Shanaynay? And then there’s my personal favorite, “Boom Qui Qui,” because it instantly brings to mind a girl who wants to fight me because her man looked at me for .238792 milliseconds.

But in a day where our president is named Barack Hussein Obama, and the richest and most powerful black woman in America is named Oprah, do names really matter much?

Well, yes–and more so than we like to acknowledge sometimes. But, as jobs are tight and African-Americans have the highest rates of unemployment, some are considering more…erhm “race-neutral” names for their progeny.  According to a research study conducted by economists Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathn of the University of Chicago Business Center, so-called “white names” received 50 percent more callbacks than “black”-sounding names.

“The saddest part about it is that it’s not the individual with the name’s fault, it’s the reader of the resume’s fault… but mostly [it’s the fault of] the parent who decided to use an innocent child to make a statement…with an unpronounceable, vowel-filled name that could have either come from a car, electronic device, unholy combo of music groups… or alcohol that was being consumed the night of conception,” says popular blogger and radio host, T.J. Sotomayor III, who produces “Your World My Views.” Sotomayor recently tackled the “black name” topic on his show.

Whether you agree or disagree with him, check the list of names that received jobs and callbacks from employers, versus those that didn’t…
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  • Peaches100

    Well I have just finished reading Freakonomics and according the authors the name of individual is irrelevant and it’s there personal background. I’m not convinced because here in the UK it has been proven that if you have an non-european ethnic sounding name (and that could be an Indian, African, Arabian) you are less likely to be called for an interview. Bottom-line the name given to a child will impact on that individual in any society you live but the more importantly, it what the parents do for the child that will determine if they go to university, marry,have a great jobs and so on. 

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  • Sal

    The job problem can also come from the Prospective Employer thinking: I can't say that name! Not calling that one. Then S/he skips through the resume pile to an easier pronunciation. So Ebony might not present a problem, but Jarqui'zamaliqua might get her resume dropped in the bin.

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  • Paul

    Just because my parents came from Germany, I have no need for foisting a name connected with a contrived insecure false and fragile sense of my esteem on them. Otherwise my kids would be named Hannelore, Otto, Lothar, Dittmar, Horst, Gunter, Wilhelm, Manfred, Hermann, Klaus, Gunda, Hans, Heinrich, Hedwig, etc.
    My forebearers used a bit of consideration with names that are common in Germany but still can be considered not too far out of the mainstream: Eva, Greta, Bettina, Emil, and Harald and Paul. Pride in heritage does not mean one still cannot find some accommodation.

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  • thabo

    I'm from Africa, and I think African Americans have no culture at all, they can't relate to real Africans in anyways, they as a mutter of fact they make fun of our names. None of the names mentioned were African/ethnic, let me give u a few;






    these are real African names and have a meaning for us (Africans). what does shaniqua or Latisha mean? U people are lost.

  • Naomi

    Some of you'll need to get a life; how do you think names came about. They were made the heck up, even in the Bible the people used to pull names out of their behind and give a meaning to it. Some of you may laugh that the parents are naming kids after cars and alcohol but those names are the real names of the people who made the drink or car. Its just clear prejudice and a reason not to hire a black person. What the hell is Rick, Dick, Hunter, Beau or Candy. Nobody says jack to those names. How they came about cause they made it up. Name your child whatever you want and give a meaning to it. Be the first person to give a meaning to Shanaynay, which could mean loud person. LOL. Just dont name your child after a disease. Just like everything else they pulled that name out of the air and give it a meaning.

  • Tamika

    Well I must be an exception to the rulle because I attended an HBCU(Historically Black College and Universities) and my name is Tamika and when I graduated I had 5 job offers to choose from!!!!!! No I will never name my Shaniqua but their names will be something cute, simple and with meaning.

  • Tebogo

    Many cultures believe that the name you give your child really says something about the child. That is why they will give them names that actually mean something. I think its great if African Americans want to give their children African names, but research on it first. Check what names are in the different African cultures and their meanings. Even if it is hard for others to pronounce, at least it has great meaning to it (something your child can always explain to others). How do you explain Alize? Laquiesha?

  • Golden Standard

    Sorry to disappoint y'all but your name does matter. The article failed to mention that in the resume study, the resumes were exactly the same, except for the name. As a result, it wasn't anything about the individual that either caused them to get a call-back or not to get a call-back; the decision whether to call back or not was obviously, based on the name at the top of the resume. While it's good that you all with "ethnic" sounding names have jobs, it doesn't negate the fact that people are being judged on something that they have no control over and that is not a measure of their character or abilities. You have to get the interview to showcase your talents and personality and these people aren't given the opportunity. In the long run the joke may be on the employer who by-passed would be employee of the year LaQuita to hire Call in Carrie, that won't keep LaQuita's lights on. Yes, it's stupid; Yes, it's real.

  • Jeremy

    Its funny how Americans blame every body else except for them selfs Just because you have an "African" name you think you are not going to get a job. Seriously people need to look at other important things

  • Mrs

    I decided to name my daughter randi and my ghetto relatives and friends didnt like it at first but I didnt care because I think its a beautiful name for a beautiful girl. And I bet when she and her cousin kendaja grow up you will be able to see the differences in opportunities in their lives just because of their names. I wish my little cousin the best but that name will set her back or stall her in the future.

  • Kira

    Me and my sisters fell victim to "ethnic" names, my mother was 16 when she had my older sister (Shayjuan) how many shayjuans do you know? Lol..she's 31 now and perfers "Shay" ..My name is Shakira and I've been told its a "Ghetto Name" but actually its a middle eastern name..and my little sister "Shaquel" who everybody calls Quel..I don't know where my mom got this one from..but I can say..we have never had a problem getting a job! Don't think its the name..I think its the person *kanye shrug*

  • Shomari

    not one of the above said names were African???

    my name is kis-Swahili

  • ECfromDC

    co-sign @ Shelly….it's terrible but it's true

  • Tha Notorious D.I.C

    Unfortunately my name made the non-call back list! But its never hindered me I have a great job! But I do a lot of political and community work so I just go by my initials!

  • ethnic names

    Ethnic ?

    Where do u get these names

    I am African South African and I promise you we don't have these names

    Shiniquas where do you get these names?


  • Ana's mommy

    @ anon. Good point! I was thinking the exact same thing.

  • Shelly

    It doesn't matter what your name is, if they don't want to hire african americans, they won't. You'll get a call back, but you can't change who you are when its time for that interview.

  • miko

    why the hell are we publicizing this "no wedding no womb" crap, madamenoire???

  • Nyonoda

    I have grown up with an African name which is very unusual. Nyonoda (Neon Day) I've always had issuses, but most people are very interested in the meaning behind it. Which means "Daughter of God" in Nigerian. My children also hold African names as well. Ashanti (an African tribe), Kayode ( Warrier), and Ayanna (Beautiful Flower).

  • blocparty86

    I am a victim of a ghetto name- I thought about changing it but I don't want to hurt my mom's feelings. It's unfair that she gets to go through life as a Debra and I have to have a name like La Na Sha…

  • Ann

    Well my name is Ann. My middle school teacher told me to add an "e" at the end when I get older. It's good to know that my name received the highest call backs for women.

  • ECfromDC

    I meant that's NOT even an "overly" ethnic name. *

  • ECfromDC

    My name is Ebony…. thats even a overly ethnic name….. it's also never (that I know of or can PROVE) stopped me from getting a certain job.

  • Don

    Tough one. To say that bias exists is both obvious and predictable. To say that it is pathetic…is equally obvious but doesn't change the facts. Prejudice exists at such a fundamental level it is scary….and people who are victims of it also perpetuate it: if I were to ask you to close your eyes and imagine a lawyer, a doctor and an accountant, who do you see? That impacts you when you go to hire one since it is an unconscious "record" of what one looks like. How many imagined young, female, black, Latino etc? Yet we all know black physicians, female lawyers, etc. Similarly, if we do not associate those positions with names on a resume like Kenya or Dante or Tomeka, who loses? For sure the applicant, but so does society…again, since we still are not making an affirmative choice based on qualifications, we are restricting choices based on prejudices.

  • Mugu Yaro

    This is a lazy, poorly researched article that sounds like it was not written by an academic. I am disappointed in the author. They could have done so much with it!

  • blake edwards

    I grew up resenting my Carcasian name but now utilities It's abillity 2 infiltrate the market

  • anon

    i just thought it was interesting that no one mentioned how asian/chinese people who immigrate to north america change their names from their traditional names to 'american' names, so they start to call themselves Amy, Kenneth, Jason and such, the conversation goes like this

    "Hi are you Xiau Lu?"

    "Oh, you can call me Amy, thats my American name, Xiau is my chinese name"

    like whats up with that? own your name be proud of it and teach people how to pronounce it, its who you are

  • College girl

    I'm ouraged. some of the names displayed on the list that did not receive a call back were arabic names, e.q. (kareem, etc)

  • im juss A 14 yrs old

    my name is TaylerLauren and my middle name is Zenobia ppl tell if i were to use my middle name wud i be called 4 a interview

  • deelucious

    To be fair people with ghetto as$ names are most likely to be ghetto as$ people. Not in all cases but in most cases. Because only a certain kind of Black person thinks it's cute or ok to name your child Talaqualeisha lol.

    Black people Vs N*ggers.

    Black people give their children sensible names (not necessarily European sounding names) but just sensible names. And N*ggers give their children made up ridiculous sounding ghetto names that. Simple as that. Which one are you?

    I intend to give my child an African name. (I'm from the Caribbean BTW, Jamaican)

    I know we're the worst ones for naming children lol. Typical Jamaican names like Kerry-Ann, Peta-Gaye, Sara-Dae, Shelly-ann, Conroy, Desroy to name a few lol.

    My name is Davina which is a "black girl name" but Davina McCall (google her) is White and some White girls have this name too, so it's not that bad.


  • @Valerie Forgive me, "Aisynia" is merely a screen name (I never thought the screen name sounded ghetto cause I am far from it, lol). My real name begins at the opposite end of the alphabet. Don't get my wrong for I do love my name; I just fear sometimes that in a career field where minorities are underrepresented it could be a hindrance. However, it could help as well when it comes to "increasing diversity in the workplace." I think it's just something I have to keep working with and make sure that people learn my given name and remember me for my personality plus work ethic. =)


    Tyrone Power was a White actor that was born in 1914 and died in 1958. He was a screen idol. I wonder how Tyrone became a "Black" name?


    wasn't there a White actor by the name of tyrone powers back in the day. How did it become a Black name?

  • AgingLibidinousBlack

    Incidentally,I'm known as "Cowboy"

    and "Brett"(because I'm said to resemble a life-size,two generations older,brawnier[5'8'',218 lb.,18'' biceps amongst my measurements]

    but still-extremely handsome version of "Brad," Barbie's then-boyfriend

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    and have the given names

    Dale Anthony(the latter from my Catholic religion and from St. Anthony of Padua).

  • Valerie

    I love that my parents had the grace to give me a name that is perfect for business.

    @Aisnynia, your name does give away your race it says Black Urban Ghetto. Maybe you might want to change your name for more success??

  • bj_rio

    My biggest problem with the whole "unique" naming issue is that it appears to be a lazy stab at greatness. I recently had to a pick a name for my daughter. My husband and I tried to find something that sounded cool and a little interesting but wouldn't saddle our child with too much baggage in the form of preconceived notions of any kind (overly artsy, for example). At the same time, we realized that while a name is a nice adornment and a marker of social class, her life choices will define the world's perception of her value and uniqueness – not her name. I have a cousin named "Diamond". I understand the rush of emotion that may have inspired her name, but really … I wish my relatives had focused on teaching her to value education and hard work instead of just slapping on a name that they thought would make her appear more valuable, unique, etc. (that actually hurts her out in the real world).

  • I agree. There's a difference in ethnic and just plain on being creative and cute by adding g's, la's and an apostrophe- excuse me accent mark on a name. I do feel people look into the name before even meeting the person.

    I think we have to do a better job when it comes to picking names. As this is the first thing society sees even before seeing you. I know when I used to do interviews for my company, I would look at the name and try to figure out what I'm getting into. Names have much power in them, even though we don't like to believe this but they really do.

    With my government name, I know it's very vague and you probably never guess it was me coming…

  • Bronze

    I think their is a bias against ignorant sounding names. Most Africans from Africa are most likely applying for high tech or jobs that require education beyond a masters degree. They have strong African sounding names that employers are familiar with.

    It is the entry level, low paying positions that garner the most discrimination because the people reviewing them and the applicants are on the same educational level. Less education equals less knowledge about those around you.

    Plus, Shaqwaun does not sound like Deola, Yomi or Agbani which are legitimate African names.


    My parents screwed up my birth name.(opinion) I saw no need to have myself attached to a name that may hinder my progress(especially economically)in this life.So…I legally changed it.Problem solved.

    BTW: "…like my cousin, who named her first child after a Nissan model she liked, “Celica”…

    "Celica" is a brand of Toyota…not Nissan.Point taken nonetheless.Your cousin should be beaten for ruining that childs' future.I'dve been okay with "BLACK NAME REBELLION" if the names had actually sounded nice or delivered solid social benefit.They do NEITHER for the most part.

  • ralphkenolesq

    I think there is a clear ethnic bias by whites against African-Americans. It seems that when the African or African sounding name is associated with an African or African sounding last name, the bias appears to reduce.

    I think that comparing the experiences of Abdul Jackson and Abdul Molongo would be revealing. I suspect that it would end up favoring Molongo.

  • Bronze