The Obama Effect: Ethnic Names Are Trending

June 23, 2016  |  


Image Source: Pete Souza/White House

Image Source: Pete Souza/White House

Whether you watched the original 1977 miniseries, Roots, or the 2016 remake, you remember when the beaten and bloody Kunta Kinte, a strong Mandinka warrior, finally succumbed to his American slave name, “Toby.” For African Americans, the pressure to assimilate to European culture and to subjugate African American culture is a struggle as old as “The Middle Passage.” What some call “Black Pride” has had sporadic mainstream relevance via Africana movements and organizations like The Black Panther Party, The Move People, and The Nation of Islam.

Now we have The Obama Effect!

A Texas A&M University study published in the Ethnics and Racial Studies journal discovered that post the 2008 election of President Barack Obama, culturally relevant names have been trending amongst African Americans parents.

According to Anderson-Clark and Green, the election of the first African American President was ‘likely to have positively affected the self-perceptions of African Americans regarding personal and collective feelings about being African American’. It would only follow, then, that African American parents might choose to reinforce their pride in their group identity through the names they chose for their children — a process called “basking in reflected glory.”

An article by Science Daily reports:

To find out if this was indeed the case, Anderson-Clark and Green analyzed the names of hundreds of African American babies born both before and after Obama’s election. They also measured their mothers’ personal and collective self-esteem with the help of questionnaires.

While naming a child according to one’s own racial or ethnic pride is a great thing, the Texas A&M researchers remind parents to be wary of the “unintended consequences” of giving their child such unique names.

“The ethnic sound of a child’s name may affect how the child is treated by others, such as teachers,” Anderson-Clark and Green wrote. “In reality then, the issue becomes a balancing act of choosing to affirm one’s racial identity through the expression of names while attempting to avoid the prejudice and discrimination that might be elicited through those names.”

There is a famous quote by Shakespeare that poetically reflects on the power of a name.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Is a Black man named Barack more proud of his ethnicity than a Black man named Michael? In the realm of credibility, is the boy named Joseph a better student than the boy named Nasir? Is there any way to actually prevent discrimination against ethnic names?

The study, “Basking In Reflected Glory: The Election of President Obama and Naming Behaviour,” was able to track a trend in what names parents chose for their children before and after The Obama Effect. It implies that a Black man with an ethnic name in position as the President of The United States of America boosts the confidence of other Black persons to take pride in their heritage. It also refers to the names of the newborns as means of identification and celebration of the African American culture.

What’s in your name? Does it give you pride? How much does your name matter in the scope of your cultural identity? We want to know!


Clarissa Joan is a spiritual life coach and editor-in-chief of The Clarissa Joan Experience, a multi-media inspirational platform. She resides in Philadelphia with her husband, their two girls, and a yorkie named Ace.

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