Culture

The burden of African-American names: Hi my name is Lakisha. I love my name. Apparently, America does not.

Hi I am Lakisha. Apparently to some my name means I hood, ghetto, etc.

Hi I am Lakisha. Apparently to some my name means I am hood, ghetto, etc.

Today I read, “Your Name Says More About You Than You Think” in Mic.com. The story shared by the young women in the article is the story of my life. In case you don’t know, my name is Lakisha. Since we are friends you can call me Kisha. I love my name. Apparently, America does not.

Read: “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination.”

Let me be honest with you, when I read the article and study above both broke my heart. I have been stereotyped because of my name. People from all sorts of backgrounds have assumed that I am hood, ghetto, hypersexual, low-class and uneducated simply because of my name. But to see it so systemically, hurt. The reality is that many believe anything of African-American origin is inherently inferior, i.e. low class, hood, ghetto, etc. My African-American Blackness is far from any of those characteristics. I know my opportunities have limited because of my name. When I applied for jobs using my full name on my résumé, I received very few call backs. When I used my first initial and my Anglicized middle name, L. Ann and emailed the same resume, I was contacted by those same companies. Need further proof? They addressed me as Ann.

Ironically, both of my parents have Anglophile names. You see, they were a part of the Black Pride movement where African-Americans tried instill Black love and pride in themselves. I understand that African-Americans had to find ways to counter centuries of American state sanctioned laws that justified idea of Black inferiority. As noble as my parent’s efforts may have been, the things they failed to see were the power dynamics, racism and consequences of our names. The consequences were that Black power did not translate into Black economic power and independence, and many of those who do the hiring and firing are not Black.

There is a trend in certain spaces for people to ask why don’t African-Americans have normal “American” aka European names. First all, normal American names would be First Nations names. After all, they were here first. Secondly, my relatives are not European. We are of African ancestry, and our ancestors were stripped of their names and various cultures. To fill the void they created their own unique identity. Finally, why should African-Americans have to make Whites feel comfortable, when we are supposedly free? Instead of putting the onus on the victims of racism why not look to eliminate racism? How about not judging people by their names, but seeing people for the wonderful and unique individuals they are.

In some ways, I am torn. Unlike my parents, my husband and I were not naïve and knew the deal. We know that racism still exists and our children will be judged by their names. So what can African-Americans do? Should we continue giving our children beautiful ethnic names and as a consequence they’d face another layer of racism? Should African-Americans do what my husband and I did by choosing race-neutral religious names so at least someone will take a look at a second look at their resumes? The questions we should really ask are why should a name, who you are or where you are from and other subjective qualities determine your opportunities and chances for success in a country that claims it should not? Shouldn’t we strive to judge people based on the content of our character?

I believe African-Americans must create their own spaces without being dependent on opportunities from racist institutions and individuals. But that won’t happen anytime soon. Until then, this is just another one of the burdens African-Americans must face in a White supremacist country that says one thing, but does another.

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13 comments

  1. Yolanda 11 February, 2015 at 16:31 Reply

    I must admit, I have many times commented on Black people’s creativity in naning children. For instance, I know someone who named their child Nino Brown. My name is ethnic, as you say, and I named my children Biblical names because I wanted their names to mean something. I wouldn’t want anyone to look at a name & use it as a means to reject someone. I have no problem with non-traditional names, we should be proud of our race & heritage, I appreciate individuality & nonconformity. But folks just making up dumb names, using random apostrophes & pronouncing a name in a way that’s phonetically unrelated to the spelling doesn’t make sense to me but maybe I’m old fashioned.

  2. Lady A 11 February, 2015 at 17:50 Reply

    All names are made up. In the beginning of civilization human beings didn’t have names. Biblical names had to start from somewhere they are also named people formed themselves. You can create a name and add meaning to it, the only thing that would make it different is the connection. If a black person creates a name people have a problem with it because we immediately associate black names with negative blackness which is dumb, bigoted and stupid.

    White people make up names themselves, and no one has a problem with it. All names are made up because human beings had no names in the beginning of civilization. To sit here and put emphasis on naming a human being and which are more superior is pointless and petty.

    We need to admit the discrimination against black names are simply racist. And black people internalize that racism because as soon as they hear a “black” name they immediately imagine a black woman in the most negative way making up a name for her child which is dumb. A lot of black women put effort in naming their children with creativity like my mother did and she’s a college graduate with a degree, so lets not go there.

  3. jubilee 11 February, 2015 at 19:20 Reply

    i hope i’m wrong
    BUT many with names like this–tend to not have married parents–especially when they came out in the early 1970s
    also single moms of ALL COLORS are giving their children non traditional names…..

  4. jubilee 11 February, 2015 at 19:24 Reply

    many of those names. even AFRICANS wont give their children…. besides WHO was the first Javonte, Trayvon, etc.. they aren’t african, but possible MADE UP.. SIMILAR TO a white girl in the backwoods…
    its best to go by your middle name sometimes…

    its similar to SEAN but its SHAWN like DeShawn KeShawn etc….
    and Darius which in the bible, is pronounced dar-eye-us instead of dar-i -us
    and they put on a ‘prefix’ TaDarius, LaDarius

  5. firefly88 11 February, 2015 at 19:30 Reply

    I have a name that family and close friends use and i have a business name. People from other cultures do the same where they have a name that businesses and work associates call them and then a more personal private name that friends and family use. a lot of Asians do this.

    I see it as until we have our own and are running our own show and working for others is an option and frosting on the cake situation. a second name might be a good option.

  6. deena 12 February, 2015 at 14:45 Reply

    lol at TaDarius and LaDarius.

    Not everyone had good intentioned parents when they named their child an ethnic name. Some colored folks just didnt care. People get especially creative with girl names.

    Let’s be clear. There’s a difference between ‘ethnic’ and questionable. ‘Kwame’ is ethnic.

    Whats worse is the SPELLINGS some times. Asia spelled Aysia. Afreeka spelled like Africa. Come on. I had a part-time job at a retail store and let me tell you how hard it was to figure out the names from the name tags. I just gave up and said ‘Hey’.

    • Sherri Solomon 22 November, 2015 at 23:18 Reply

      Deena, just so you know Africa is NOT the authentic name for what we know as Africa. One of the original original namesfor Africa is Afuraka. AFRICA was a name given to this region by a white man name with the last name Cippio. Sorry for the late response.

    • Sherri Solomon 22 November, 2015 at 23:20 Reply

      Deena, just so you know Africa is NOT the authentic name for what we know as Africa for this region.One of the original original names for Africa is Afuraka. AFRICA was a name given to this region by a white man name with the last name Cippio. Sorry for the late response.

  7. T 17 February, 2015 at 07:41 Reply

    I see why beyond the spectrum received nasty emails. His was nowhere near as thoughtful and neutral as this one.
    I always said that I wanted to name my kid Shaka and let his good grades speak for themselves but knowing what I know I wouldn’t put that burden on him. Funny that is a burden instead of a freakin’ name.
    I get a kick out of new names but even ghetto names tend to follow a making pattern our have a rhyme or reason and the usual reason for making them is the parent wants their kids to be special. They may not be aware that their kid will face all sorts of stereotypes and stigmas but they know that the kid is loved and want them to stand out. How beautiful is that? Maybe that’s what people should focus on when a kid south a “ghetto” name walks through their door.

    • Beyond-The-Spectrum 17 February, 2015 at 15:57 Reply

      I think—check, I KNOW–one of the major reasons it’s hard for us to move toward parity with other groups is that WE cannot tolerate criticism. I look at Bill Cosby (I know, not a good example currently, but it still fits) and the criticism he received when he was simply speaking truth to power. Not all truth is “pretty” or acceptable…but it IS truth.

  8. Eva 17 February, 2015 at 12:46 Reply

    This piece is on point. It’s not PC, but it’s reality. I have an extremely Anglo Saxon sounding name, so much so that people who meet me are surprised I’m black. One white woman said, “I thought you were from a farm in Iowa.”

    But this is nothing new. Before the 1970’s many Jewish people gave their children Christian sounded first names; I went to school with girls who had names like Mary Anne Weinstein.

  9. amber 14 July, 2015 at 00:02 Reply

    Thank you Firefly88! That’s how you do it!

    You’re right! For example, the Chinese people I know keep an English first name and keep their Asian last name.

    Black professionals should try to look for an English name within the Aframerican name and use this on the resume!

    If people, particularly the critics look closely, many Aframerican names really have English, French, Spanish, Latin and Russian origins! Desean, LaTanya, Latasha, DeMarcus

    Example: On a resume I would use Tanya instead of LaTanya, and as respect is gained in the workplace and people get to know you, then you can have people call you by your real Aframerican name! Same with Desean or Demarcus! Use Sean and use Marcus instead on resumes!

    Lakisha, you may want to use Leah or Lisa for in the business world until people get to know you, but whatever you do, pleeease keep your original Aframerican name!

    Other cultures keep their names! Why shouldn’t Aframericans? Other cultures aren’t criticized for having their names!! Why should we be criticized for having unique sounding names? (You can see my passion, as I may soon be writing a book about this subject of Aframerican names)

    Lakisha, don’t let anyone ever talk you out of your beautiful name!

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