We are more than our names

Raven Symone annoyed audiences countrywide when she said she wouldn’t hire anyone name with a name like “Watermelondrea.” Though these sorts of ignorant comments have come to be expected from her, she makes an interesting point about how a person’s name affects the way society sees them.

People often joke about black sounding names as if these jokes are still funny. In fact, we probably all know someone who keeps regurgitating the urban legend of the woman who named her kid Le-a (pronounced Ladasha) or reciting the entirety of the infamous YouTube video, “Top 60 Ghetto Black Names.”

Of course it’s not just black people who have faced ridicule for the decisions of their parents. Latinos also face scrutiny for their occasionally lengthy, “ethnic” sounding names.

This is also an overused trope in mass media as well. In Disney Channel’s “the Suite Life of Zack and Cody” there was a bellhop by the name of Esteban Julio Ricardo Montoya del Rosa Ramirez. He was likeable for his thick accent and long name. Though it’s funny to poke fun at ourselves sometimes, it’s annoying when a specific group of people become known for something that doesn’t actually define them. A name is just a label and just because people assume things about your persona based on how your name sounds, doesn’t mean you have adhere to their ideas.

This doesn’t happen to our Brads and Ashleys of the world. Sure people of European descent get called out for naming their kids like “Apple” or “Bronx Mowgli,” but it has very little impact on their lives.

In a study done by MIT-University conducted in 2001 entitled “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination,” researchers sent in fake resumes to places looking for workers and those “applicants” with white-sounding names were twice as likely to get hired than those whose names don’t fit the Eurocentric norm.

Bill Maxwell, writer for the St. Petersburg Times has covered this study extensively and agrees with the findings of the MIT researchers saying employers react a certain way when they get applicants with names like “Tyrone” and Loquisha.”

It’s sad to think we can’t take someone seriously because their name might not have a deep meaning or it’s too long or has too many consonants.

When people start asking questions, it makes for an uncomfortable time no matter how harmless their intentions are. In the wrong setting, it’s just plain insensitive. Sometimes I’ve had to be the expert on all things black and I’ve been asked about what goes through the minds of black parents when they name their children. I tried to explain because I used to wonder the same thing but now I just tell them “I don’t know, what was going through your parent’s head when they named you?”

There is nothing to be done in a lot of these cases. You can’t legally change your name until you’re eighteen and even then, you risk “disrespecting your birthright” and you might even have to pay a fee in some states.

Also, here’s a thought: some people like their unique names. Just because a name isn’t typical or Eurocentric doesn’t mean it’s a bad one.

It’s 2015 guys, can we please stop attributing certain personality with ethnic sounding names please. It’s old and for those who have these names, it probably makes them uncomfortable. It’s one thing if it was always light-hearted fun but it almost never is when it comes down to it because it affects people outside the world of comedy – it’s a serious issue.