Should Parents Give Their Children Distinctively “Black” Names?

One day in October of 2013, Cristy Austin and her 19-year-old daughter Keisha went before a judge in Johnson County, Missouri, paid a $175 fee, then returned home as Cristy and Kylie Austin.

African American child
African American child | Source

A teenager feels compelled to change her “black” name

Keisha Austin had asked her mother to give her, as an early Christmas gift, a new name. And after much anguished discussion, Cristy Austin reluctantly gave her child what she pleaded for.

But why? This was not just a teenage whim on Keisha’s part. Her decision to become Kylie Austin came after much thought, and with some opposition both from her mother and from friends. Why was this so important to her?

Kylie Austin is the daughter of a black father and a mother, Cristy, who is white. Cristy knew her child, though biracial, would be considered African American. Wanting her to grow up feeling connected to and proud of her heritage, Cristy decided to give her a distinctly “black” name. She chose Keisha, because to her that name represented a "strong, feminine, beautiful black woman."

But after 19 years of being known as Keisha, the younger Austin decided that the burden of bearing a black-sounding name was more than she could bear.

Growing up in a mostly white environment, Keisha had been subjected all her life to taunts, jokes, and bullying based on her name. Classmates at school would ask if there was a “La” or “Sha” attached to it. Even a teacher made jokes about it. To Keisha there was often more than a hint of hidden racism and prejudice in their comments.

“It’s like they assumed that I must be a certain kind of girl,” she says. “Like, my name is Keisha so they think they know something about me, and it always felt negative.”

Left out
Left out | Source

A person’s name can make a real difference in their life

Keisha Austin’s experience with name-based prejudice is by no means unique. Since the Black Power days of the early 1970s, some African American parents have delighted in choosing conspicuously non-white-sounding names for their offspring. It was, just as Cristy Austin thought, a statement of racial pride and independence.

But a factor those well meaning parents may not have considered is that in a society still far from being color blind, having a name that identifies a person sight-unseen as black can often prove to be a distinct disadvantage.

Should parents give their children "black" names?

  • Yes - It builds pride in who they are
  • Yes - But only if the parents adequately prepare the child to deal with prejudice
  • No - It may cause the child to be discriminated against
See results without voting

Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) conducted a study to determine the effect on employment of having a name that could be related to a particular race. The research was conducted between July 2001 and January 2002.

In their study the researchers sent out resumes in response to employment ads in Chicago and Boston newspapers. The resumes were divided into two equivalent groups, each representing a range of qualifications for the positions. Half of them were randomly assigned names typically associated with blacks, while the other half bore “white sounding names, such as Emily Walsh or Greg Baker.”

Bertrand and Mullainathan reported on their research in a paper entitled Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? The NBER summarized their findings this way:

A job applicant with a name that sounds like it might belong to an African-American - say, Lakisha Washington or Jamal Jones - can find it harder to get a job…

The results indicate large racial differences in callback rates...

Job applicants with white names needed to send about 10 resumes to get one callback; those with African-American names needed to send around 15 resumes to get one callback…

The 50 percent gap in callback rates is statistically very significant… It indicates that a white name yields as many more callbacks as an additional eight years of experience.

Even Google treats people with black-sounding names differently

The disparities in how people are treated based on whether their name seems black or white extends even to Google.

Harvard professor Latanya Sweeney, who is black, began noticing something odd in her Google searches. It seemed she was seeing an inordinate number of ads for criminal background checks and the like. So, she conducted an academic research study to determine if her perception was real. It was.

As I noted in an article entitled Is Google Racist? Ads Placed with Some Google Searches Show a Racial Bias:

Dr. Sweeney discovered that Google searches for names typically associated with blacks, such as "Ebony," "DeShawn," or, ironically, her own name, "Latanya," were 25 per cent more likely to bring up advertisements for services having to do with criminality than were similar searches using more "white" sounding names, such as "Kristen" or "Jill."

Ads for criminal background checks or arrest records appeared even when the particular black-sounding name searched had no criminal records associated with it. On the other hand, white-sounding names often yielded no such ads even though the advertiser's own database contained criminal records attached to that name.

This is not so much a Google issue as an advertiser issue. Google ads end up where they do because advertisers choose the keywords that will trigger their ad placements. So, these crime-related ads show up on searches for names associated with African Americans because, apparently, some advertisers think blacks are the group most concerned with criminality.

An African American family
An African American family | Source

Most popular names given to African American babies

Aaliyah/Aliyah, Alexandra, Alexis, Alyssa, Angel, Aniyah, Brianna, Chloe, Destiny, Diamond, Gabrielle, Hailey, Hannah, Imani, Isis, Jada, Jasmine, Jayla, Jordan, Kayla, Kennedy, Kiara, Laila, Madison, Makayla, Nevaeh, Sydney, Taylor, Tiana, Trinity
Anthony, Brandon, Caleb, Cameron, Christian, Christopher, Daniel, David, Elijah, Ethan, Gabriel, Isaiah, James, Jayden, Jaylen, Jeremiah, Jordan, Joseph, Joshua, Josiah, Justin, Kevin, Malik, Matthew, Michael, Nathan, Tyler, William, Xavier, Zion
Data from Virginia, Colorado, Arkansas, Texas, and New York City, which are the only localities that record newborns' names by race. Source:
Father and son
Father and son | Source

Should parents avoid giving their children “black” names?

When Keisha Austin was considering her name change, both her mother and some friends initially urged her not to do it. One friend told Keisha that she should stand up to prejudice, and demonstrate to people that a name doesn’t define the person.

But should parents put that kind of pressure on their children, inflicting on them the onus of having to bear an added burden just because of the name they were given? Is it really fair for parents to express their own racial pride in that way when it’s the children who will have to pay the cost? Is it responsible parenting to put an African American child, as Bertrand and Mullainathan indicate, up to eight years behind whites in terms of the qualifications and experience required to get an equivalent job?

A counter example: Barack Obama

On the other hand, there is the example of another biracial child who did stand up to prejudice associated with his name and made it to the very top. Barack Obama was known early in his life as Barry. That was also the name his Kenyan father had chosen as his American nickname.

But in 1980, when he was a student at Occidental College, Barack Obama decided to make a change. When he went home at Christmas of that year, he told his family that from then on he wanted to be known by his given name, Barack. In essence, Obama made the opposite choice from the one Keisha Austin made. And, as we know, that worked pretty well for him.

Throughout his two campaigns for president, there were many who focused derisively on his non-American sounding name. But that didn’t prevent Barack Hussein Obama from twice being elected to the highest office in the land.

Could it have been that extra drive and pride from his name that helped propel a young Barack Obama to aspire to the heights he achieved? To me it seems probable that his name was more of a positive than a negative, not so much because of others’ perceptions of that name, but in its effect on the person himself.

So, which way should parents go?

One option: let the child decide

Many parents see the name they choose to give their child as part of the ongoing struggle for racial equality. While they recognize that it could place an extra burden on their offspring, they believe it will actually make the child stronger, as it apparently did with Barack Obama.

But what about those parents who would like to give their child a distinctive name he or she can proudly live up to, but are reluctant to put their progeny at a disadvantage relative to others?

One possible solution to the dilemma is to let the child decide. Obviously, parents must give their baby a name long before it is able to choose for itself. But I think we already have a well accepted way of allowing the child to choose the name by which he or she will be known.

Black teenagers
Black teenagers | Source

Here’s my suggestion: give the child a racially neutral first name. Then, if desired, give them a middle name reflecting the particular aspirations and pride the parents have for their offspring. Now, at an appropriate time in his or her life, the child can decide which name to emphasize without being accused of being ashamed of their name.

Most people in our society are known by their given first name, and seldom even mention their middle name. On the other hand, there are many who “go by” their middle name, and may or may not ever allude to their first name.

The example of Mitt Romney

An example is Barack Obama’s opponent in the 2012 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney. I’m sure that to this day, most people who voted for or against him have no idea that his name is actually Willard Mitt Romney. It was Romney himself who chose by which name he would be known.

Similarly, Michael Tyshawn Anderson or Brenda Lakisha Smith would have the choice of which name they wanted to be publicly known by.

Name prejudice is wrong, but real

None of this in any way serves to justify prejudice based on a person’s name. That’s a despicable practice that no one can defend. But it’s also a fact of life. For that reason parents can’t just consult their own hopes and dreams (or whims) in choosing a name. They should at least think through the impact a particular name might have on the life experiences of their child, and make their decision in light of that assessment.

Is it OK for a parent to give a child a name popularly associated with a particular race? Absolutely! And is it OK to do it in such a way that the child can ultimately decide by which name to be known? To me, that makes a lot of sense.

© 2013 Ronald E. Franklin


gmwilliams profile image

gmwilliams 2 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

Great article indeed. Voted UP. Names also denote socioeconomic origins. A child with a name denoting lower or working class origins will also find it difficult to obtain a high powered job. Studies have been done regarding too ethnic names. Children with obviously ethnic names, regardless of race and/or ethnic origin, will be perceived more negatively than children with racially and/or ethnically neutral names. An employer who more likely to hire a Black person with the name Vanessa Lynn Washington than with a name LaDonna Latisha Washington. Unfortunately, too many parents just DON'T think!

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, Grace. You're right about the socioeconomic class associated with a name shapes how that person is perceived. The study results show that clearly. Some names thought to be "black" are rated much more positively than others apparently based on the class factor. Thanks for your insightful comment.

Scott P Williams profile image

Scott P Williams 2 years ago from Miami, Florida

I've been a manager a few times in my life and usually surrounded by people other than black at work, most of the time. In management and personally, I definitely formed opinions about names on applications.

I don't think there is anything wrong with most black names. Keisha and Imani are nice names. White people named Cristi and Mary are going through the same things but just in a different way. Be proud of who you are and work on making your culture something to be proud of and then there will be no questions about your name. In 2013, if your basing major life decisions on how easy or hard it is to find a job, good luck because America is changing drastically for everyone.

As far as the racist issue. I've read enough of your hubs to know that you understand systemic racism. Most people don't know they are racist, including blacks, because our society is so deeply embedding with it. Black people are sometimes racist toward themselves because they get the same education as everybody else. So, even a black manager may not want to hire Deyshon or Lakeisha. Sad but true!

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, Scott, for your comment. You said, "most people don't know they are racist." How true! That's why name prejudice is so insidious. It translates unacknowledged negative perceptions into discriminatory actions that the person may not consciously realize are race based. We all know that the name a person received from their parents at birth says exactly zero about the kind of person they are when they are 22 and looking for a job!

Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 2 years ago from Spicewood, Texas

Great hub; insightful. Voted Up.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks so much, Silva.

cmoneyspinner1tf profile image

cmoneyspinner1tf 2 years ago from Austin, Texas

If a person doesn't like the name they have, in this country - the United States - they can legally change it. Can't speak for other countries.

Excuse me but ... I'm the one who lives with me, all the time. I have the right to be happy with me!! Kylie was not happy being Keisha. Kylie had an understanding parent. If my children don't like their names, they can change their names. I won't be offended. It's their life!

Financially speaking, though, if they were under age they would have had to come up with the money to pay for it. I'm understanding. But I'm not the one dissatisfied with the name. They are! So they can pay for the change. I paid to have them and raise them! The name changing is not part of the rearing process, unless we're trying to escape from a stalker or something!

Good HUB!

JG11Bravo profile image

JG11Bravo 2 years ago

Really fascinating topic and a great analysis. For what it's worth, you've got me thinking about how I perceive people in general based on their names.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, cmoneyspinner1tf. It was difficult for Kylie's mom to adjust to the change because she had been lovingly calling Keisha by name even while she was in the womb. But she gave the money for the new name as a gift.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, JG11Bravo. You’re not alone in needing to watch out for pre-judging people based on their names. We all probably do it more than we consciously know.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean

Ron, you're right. This is a very real issue,and you presented it very well. There are instances in which people decide your fate as soon as they hear your name. We shouldn't subject our children to that kind of prejudice. Voted Up!

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks so much, MsDora. My observation is that some parents have not carefully thought through the possible impact on their child's later life before naming their baby. Now the research is showing how real that issue is.

Esther  Strong profile image

Esther Strong 2 years ago from UK

A very interesting read. Yes, it's naive to think that others will not judge you before they meet or know you and so I agree the suggestion of having a first or middle name which sounds more conventional/acceptable is a good one as it give the child a choice in the matter without the necessity to officially change their name.

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM

Great article and so relevant to the times! As a retired teacher who once taught in an inner city school I have had my share of students named Diamond, Tacoma, Precious, Tawanda, Jeron, certainly no Davids, Sams, Janes or Kathys. It is true, we do associate very African-American names with the inner city. As a teacher, I sometimes stumbled through saying the names on the list of students on the first day of school. It is embarrassing and does show the divide between the races and living environment. I enjoyed reading this and it brought back pleasant memories.

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM

Congratulations on HOTD! I forgot to mention this in my comments.

Thief12 profile image

Thief12 2 years ago from Puerto Rico

Really interesting article. However, I wouldn't do a name change, mostly because it means walking around the issue, not solving it. I mean, it enforces the prejudice and stereotype that is being criticized. Someone that judges other simply by his/her name has bigger issues to deal with, and changing the names won't solve that.

Also, congrats on HOTD!

my_girl_sara profile image

my_girl_sara 2 years ago from Georgia

Like it or not, our children will be pre-judged if we give them names like A-A (pronounced A-dash-a) and Orangejello (pronounced Orangello). I do feel badly for the few who are greater than their ghetto-esque name suggests. We are all pre-judged, even those of us who are white. I get pre-judged all the time because people take one look at me and think I am of some other nationality when if fact, both my parents are white. It's hurtful but I have learned to bite my tongue. Voted up.

Thief12 profile image

Thief12 2 years ago from Puerto Rico

Those examples you mentioned are odd/weird/unusual names which has nothing to do with ethnicity, which is the topic of the Hub.

And you're right. Prejudice will come either way from any person towards any person, for any reason... but that doesn't mean I'm going to sweep the issue under the carpet by changing who I am, my name, or anything else. The issue of prejudice, racism, etc. is still there.

If someone judges me by my name, then that means there are bigger issues on his/her mind, and I will stumble upon those issues sooner or later when they actually meet me.

Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

Marcy Goodfleisch 2 years ago from Planet Earth

Outstanding hub, and well-researched. My vote is for parents to think responsibly about what they'll subject their children to, whether it's they name they give them, or other social or health factors.

Perhaps a rock star can name his kid Moon Unit Zappa without causing too much taunting for the child, but a child with the same name, but from a non-famous and lower-income family would be teased mercilessly.

Teasing is a form of bullying, and it is very harmful. I'm speaking from experience - my first and last name are both unusual, and although they didn't attract some of the harmful reactions you mention, I was definitely teased.

Finally, if educators react to the names (and I can attest first-hand that I've heard teacher acquaintances laugh about some names they've encountered in classes), having an unusual second name may not help. Teachers generally see the full name.

Congrats on your Hub of the Day - great work! Voted up and shared.

fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 2 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Ron....excellent hub, well-researched and eloquently presented. In short, I feel as you do. My best explanation can be summed up in several issues I found myself having to deal with, as a Unit General Manager for a major Corporation. Each of these issues, having to do with the subject matter of your common sense hub.

Whenever the discussion of"names" comes up...I can't help but share the story of a family who grew up in my hometown.... It's just one of those things that makes one wonder, "WHAT can parents be thinking sometimes??!!" They had 3 daughters, "Holly, Polly & Molly"....and 3 sons...."Rolly Olly & Jolly." Fortunately, their last name was not Golly!! LOL

word55 profile image

word55 2 years ago from Chicago

Great article here. Of course, I don't think a name should matter in a person being successful or not. A child should be taught to be strong, educated and maintain spiritual and moral values. I think Keisha is a lovely name. There may be good and bad people with that name. Kylie's a lovely name too but it is what a person makes of themselves that matter. Yes, parents should be more considerate when choosing a name but a name should just be what a person is identified by regardless of what the name means. Children will grow out of their younger years and won't be around peers or teachers that made fun or cracks about their names. Mind over matter should be applied. Question, If other children don't like their names should a name change center or department be formed? Don't let the name matter. Others can make fun of a person because of looks regardless of the name. A manager who looks at a name rather than the qualifications that go with the name may be doing the company injustice by passing over a qualified person just because of the name. A teacher is doing a child injustice by making any jokes or cracks about a child's name. I have a name which was the same as one of the popular cartooned, chipmunks. As a child when the cartoon series was on every Saturday morning I was bombarded, at school with my named called out but at least I got attention although I didn't care for it. I'll say to anyone, Be strong and stand up for and with your name. Love your name given as you should love yourself. However, if you have a middle name and like it better then prefer using it among friends and peers because changing the first given name may be quite expensive. It is what you make of yourself that matters most because people may choose to judge you no matter what your name is. Thanks RonEFran for such a great, controversial article.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, Esther. I think we probably all prejudge people based on their name more than we realize.

cfin profile image

cfin 2 years ago from The World we live in

People should do as they wish without feeling the need to fit in to the USA media norm. I have a distinctly Irish name and Irish accent. I have been treated horribly for being "foreign" which I only mention because I know how it feels to be stereotyped. Do I care? Heck no. I won't change for anyone because I do things my way.

Did I name my daughter something Irish? No I didn't. Why? Because I found a nicer name. I really didn't think it was such a big deal. Name your daughter an Irish name, a jewish name, a black name. Heck name them a star trek name for all I care. I will still respect them and treat them no different.

When working in retail, however, I noticed how my fellow managers would not hire someone with a "black" name and I was yelled at for doing so. I hate the emphasis placed on "differences" in the US. It's disgusting.

David Trujillo profile image

David Trujillo 2 years ago from Medellin, Colombia

Wow, your organization style impresses me.

I think African American names are a legacy to its origins, a memory from Africa. I find it saddening this has to happen to achieve more recognition and I don´t see how it solves equality in America. But you are right at the end; each person has the right to be known as they want, no matter the reason.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, Suzette. Teachers are really on the front lines of this issue. I think the way a teacher reacts to a child's name influences how other children react to it. The teacher who joked about Keisha's name probably meant no harm, but certainly did more harm than they knew.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thankst, Thief12. Changing her name was a really hard decision for Keisha. No child should be put in the position of having to make such a decision because of the prejudices of other people.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks for reading and commenting, my_girl_sara. I can't help but think that any parent who would give a child a name like Orangejello is being very irresponsible! I remember the parents who were in the news a couple of years back because they named their son after Adolph Hitler. They wanted to make a point, but at what cost to the child?

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks for your kind words, Marcy. Interesting point about celebrities who give their children odd-sounding names. I think kids will tease and bully based on a name no matter how much of a celebrity the parents might be. Or even the child him- or herself. I remember reading how some of the kids on the 1950s Mickey Mouse Club show were teased unmercifully when they went back to their schools. So, as you said, parents need to be responsible!

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, fpherj48. There seem to be far too many parents who name their children with no thought of how those names might affect them later in life.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

I appreciate your comment, word55. You mention that Keisha is a lovely name. Interestingly, as I was researching the article I did a Facebook search on that name. It brought up people from all kinds of backgrounds, not just black. You're certainly right that children need to be taught how to be secure in who they are. They can be unfairly prejudged on just about any characteristic and need to be ready for that unfortunate fact of life.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks for your comment, cfin. You've had the chance to see first hand the injustice of name prejudice. It's still very real. And the victims of the kinds of hiring decisions you allude to may never know why they were not even considered for the job.

Tom Mukasa profile image

Tom Mukasa 2 years ago from Lives in USA

There are many reasons for naming: a name features as a bonding marker in that it attaches one to a family or a community be it cultural or religious or non denominational; it is also an identifier of race, culture,sex,gender and birth order. I was given christian names because my parents and their parents ( my grandparents) before them had embraced Christianity. But, my great, great parents where not Christians. They were traditionalists. They passed on names based on many issues. Some of the issues are: clans, matrilineal side, patrilineal side, the position of the sun, stars, moon, harvests, rain season, war, peacetime or an event that took their fancy. These names are still passed on to next generations as middle, third, fourth or given names. Children would even be given a reason why they were given such names. It is these explanations they would give if they were put in a situation to explain themselves. Naming should not be about shaming although it has been used by all persons bent on denigrating others. This way it is the equivalent of verbal caricature.

So, these adverts of Asian girls and Russian girls with numbers to call means Google or those in the Adverts section think I am into call girls? Well,they are wrong!

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks for commenting, David. That people can be expected to prejudge a person based only on their name remains an unfortunate fact of life. My hope is that that we will reach the point where children will no longer be confronted with the kind of dilemma Keisha faced. We all need to grow up!

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks for commenting, Tom. I think you are right that names serve to help bond a person to their community. The prejudice isn't really against the name itself, but the community it represents. That's the nasty fact of the racism that still afflicts our nation.

heidithorne profile image

heidithorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

First, BIG congrats on Hub of the Day! Well deserved.

Unfortunately, this is a very real problem that many cultural groups (Muslims, Latinos, etc.), not just blacks, are running into. Though not ideal, I do like the compromise of giving them an ethnic-neutral first name with a more creative middle name and letting the child decide.

I would also say that giving names that will wear well over a child's lifetime should also be considered. My first name is too childish and I've never, ever liked it. But that's what everyone knows me as and I just continue to use it. *sigh* And when one gets to be, ahem, of a certain age, it's awkward to have a kid's name.

So note to all parents: Think long-term when naming your little ones.

David Trujillo profile image

David Trujillo 2 years ago from Medellin, Colombia

How does it feel to be hub of the day? Are you dancing while responding?? jeje

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM

Ron: I absolutely agree with you. In fact, the class would cheer when I got the pronunciation correct the first time around. I always made fun of myself and tried to ease the situation with humor. My students would tell me, and I know they meant it in the nicest way and not a racist way, "Mrs.Walker, you are soooo white!" I would laugh and tell them yes, I was from the 'burbs' but they would run into people like me all through life. I always had a good rapport with my students and well all learned from each other.

NateB11 profile image

NateB11 2 years ago from California, United States of America

I really like your solution to this dilemma and it surprised me because I was trying to think of one but was at a loss. Interestingly, your solution reflects your very clear examination of this issue. I agree, the child ultimately should have the choice and shouldn't be burdened by the perspective and choice of the parent. Truly an enlightening and well-drawn work you've shared here.

Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 2 years ago from USA

I have struggled with this too - on the one hand, the only way people will get over their prejudices over particular names is if they meet someone with that name who doesn't conform to what they expected. But on the other hand, I don't want to put my child at a disadvantage.

I agree that it does have to do with socioeconomic status though than race, since Appalachian names don't sound black, but they wouldn't make the employers jump up and call either Loretta or Dolly.

Congratulations on Hub of the Day.

cathylynn99 profile image

cathylynn99 2 years ago from northeastern US

other ethnic names can affect people, too. I have a lawyer friend who changed their surname from one ending with "ski" to one like "thomas" and immediately began to get more job offers.

poetryman6969 profile image

poetryman6969 2 years ago

My first reaction is something akin to: Whose darn business is it!!!

But upon reflection, employers do make superficial decisions. If you saddle your kid with a weird name you are doing him no favors.

Remember that guy who wanted to name his kids things like Adolph Hitler? I know I'm not offering Adolph a job.

janshares profile image

janshares 2 years ago from Washington, DC

There are some painful truths you present here, Ron. Excellent job of presenting the issue in a sensitive way. As we know, giving African American children names which are common within a particular cultural trend, ethnic identity, or "black experience" has long been the source of controversy and comedy in our society. I applaud you for taking it on. There are so many layers with this, even within African American subculture. Congrats on HOTD!

Sheri Faye profile image

Sheri Faye 2 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

Great hub and food for thought. I have always wondered why some black people gave their kids such names. Very pretty names and lovely to say and here, but you are right, it does identify them as black.....and why would that be a bad thing? It is like Indian names...I know a lady whose name is Ravinder....obviously Indian and it has caused her some discrimination. My own name is Sheri and that is from a French back ground as my ancestors are and lots of times in my life people ask if I am French after learning my name (I am always happy to tell them, no...I am Canadian....and then get really smart ass and tell them... actually...I am an I know we have made great huge strides in becoming race blind in the last fifty years or so and know we have a long way to go...but...really...enough already. Am I alone in this or won't it be the sweetest thing ever when we all start relating as humans and these conversations will be replaced with all of us combining our compassion and intelligence to create a world of tolerance and peace. I do believe it will is inevitable....Polly Anna me for sure. I am not black but my hubby is part black and I do have close family members that are black and I do know that their blackness interfere with first impressions...( can dance and are way cool and call each other nigga)...yeah right...the people in my life are just we all are. We are all connected. All of us. The same suffering, the same insecurities, the same, the same ,the same. So....a rose by any other name smells just as sweet. I guess if my own name put me at a disadvantage in the world because of assumptions I might change it....I can't put myself in those shoes for sure....but I really think I would say...bring on the la's and sha's if that is what I needed....but I hope we can all not be so identified by our culture or color that we need to proclaim it by a name. It is just a word. We are not names...we are not words.

Anon 2 years ago

This is a very good article interesting and provides some good options for those in the thick of it. It would be nice if more people put more thought into the impact of names of their children. Unfortunately, many assumptions are made simply from one's name particularly in school, college, and in the workplace or when applying for work.

It should be noted that not all distinctively black names have any origins from any specific culture or country. Some parents name their child a name that is a combination of other distinctively black names, a name of an object, etc.

As a result, it is not uncommon for people with distinctive names to create shortened or completely different names for others to use when referring to them. These are definite cases where the individual should change their name.

Say Yes To Life profile image

Say Yes To Life 2 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

It seems to me, even if you have a "white" name, people will still know you're black when you walk through the door for an interview. So ultimately, does it make any difference?

On a lighter note, check this out:

Silver Fish profile image

Silver Fish 2 years ago from Edinburgh Scotland

Interesting article- I had no idea that "black" names existed.

wsmittick profile image

wsmittick 2 years ago from Denver, Colorado

This article was right on point. I too believe that a child should have the choice in which name to choose.

Evans4life profile image

Evans4life 2 years ago

Being an African American HR Director, I'm ashamed to say that I am guilty. There was a time when parents selected a name which had meaning. The Bible says a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches. The verse is talking about one's character and reputation. These hard-to-pronounce names gives the impression of a damaged character that's associated with the African American culture. I work in a conservative organization. It is my job to hire employees who will fit the culture. Sometimes their names are a strike against them. I hate to admit it but it is true. Their names/resume is your first impression. Unless they look extremely good on paper despite their name, they may be overlooked. I think African americans should consider their children's future success when naming their kids.

Thief12 profile image

Thief12 2 years ago from Puerto Rico

Jesus Christ. I'm surprised that more people here don't think this whole premise of racial profiling and racism is disgusting.

Sheri Faye profile image

Sheri Faye 2 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

One more thought to add to this insightful conversation...the term "African American"....seems to be the politically correct way to say black lately...but my being a Canadian....what should we say..."African Canadian"?...and then it could get way crazy...what if you are a great big mix up of color and culture like my family is...."African French Canadian with a touch of Irish and Native Indian"....we really need to hold on to ideals and know we are all the same....our experience of life may be tainted by our color, history and culture, but we, now, can say no to all that. Let's finally all be free....I am thinking Nelson here and want to live his ideals...they are my own ideals... be color and culture blind...ok?...rant over.

Thief12 profile image

Thief12 2 years ago from Puerto Rico

Canada is part of America. Although I really don't see anything wrong with the term "black".

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks so much, Heidi. You're right that the issue of name prejudice has a long history that goes far beyond African Americans. All parents of whatever background need to be aware. BTW, for what it's worth, your name never struck me as childish at all. And I do remember the Shirley Temple movie!

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, David, for the HOTD kudos. Feels great!

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Suzette, I think your experience is very instructive. The real issue is respect, and I think people, young people especially, quickly sense when they are being disrespected because of their name. I think you hit just the right tone.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, NateB11. I appreciate the comment!

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, Millionaire Tips. You're that this issue affects many groups. It will rear its ugly head whenever a person's name is associated with a group somebody holds prejudice views about. So it's very much an issue for all of us.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks for your comment, cathylynn99. You make a good point. How many entertainers, for example, have changed their names to make them sound more "American." So, it's really a universal issue.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

poetryman6969: Exactly! Ideally a parent should be able to give their child whatever name is meaningful for that family, with no adverse repercussions for the child's later life. But that's just not the way it is. Thanks for commenting.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Janis, thanks so much for your kind words. Whatever decision they finally make about naming their child, parents should take this issue seriously enough to spend some time thinking it through. That's what I hope the article makes clear.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, Sheri, for your comment. Hopefully there will come a day when this issue is not an issue because we've gotten beyond the kinds of prejudice you speak of. But I have to say I think we still have a very long way to go. For many years to come parents will need to think through potential repercussions before they name their children.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, Anon, for commenting.

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

Congrats on HOTD!

Most interesting, indeed. Growing up in multi-racial, liberal-minded San Francisco, I never gave any of this much thought. I had friends in all races, and some of my friends took more flak for their surnames than their given names.

There was a JoRhonda; a Gwen; a Louise; a Marcella; a Pamela; an Alysha. I never noticed any specific attentions toward any of them one way or the other from the teachers, unless it was directly on account of behavioral issues.

I did, however, read a similar study many years after high school, that found that teachers did tend to discredit the work of any child with an odd name, regardless of race. In that study, it was a blind test for grading essays. Some were missing the name of the child; some had the names. All the essays were identical, and the teachers selected to grade them were a good cross-section of their field. Consistently, the name-included papers with the odd names featured much lower grades than the ones with "common" names. The papers minus names fared quite equally in grading results.

So, I'd say, regardless of your race, do not "favor" you child with an oddball-sounding name, or a name that is race-specific, unless, as you wisely point out, you use that as the middle name.

And by the way--I'm not going by my first name, and have not since the mid 1980s. But for a far different reason. My first name is common--too common, in fact. When I was in school, if you called my name, 10 other girls would also turn around to see who was calling.

But I also hated that all my friends had nicknames, but my name was short, so there was no nickname. It came to a head when I was married to my ex-husband, and my married surname was then only 1 letter different from my given name. I got sick and tired of the mix-ups people kept making, so I opted for the "first initial, middle name" usage, and have done so ever since, even though I have remarried, and the name confusion is no longer a problem.

Voted up, interesting and useful, also shared.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks for your comment, Say Yes To Life. Yes, prejudice certainly still operates once an applicant steps into an interview room. But I think of the "Rooney Rule" in professional football that requires teams to interview at least one minority person for any head coaching vacancy. There have been several coaches hired because of doing a great job in the interview, even though the organization really had no intention of hiring them at the beginning. So I see insuring that people are not weeded out by name prejudice before even getting a chance to interview as a crucial step toward true equality of opportunity.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks for commenting, Silver Fish.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, wsmittick, for your comment. BTW, I lived in Boulder for 10 years and have very fond memories of Colorado.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, Evans4life. I think most of us, black as well as white, are more influenced by name prejudice than we realize. That's why putting the spotlight on it is so important. Once we acknowledge that a person is not responsible for, or defined by, the name their parents gave them, I think it will help us get beyond what can be an insidious and damaging habit.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Good insight, Thief12. Name prejudice is a form of racial or ethnic profiling. Thanks for your comment.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks so much, DzyMsLizzy. You make some very interesting points. I think part of what made Keisha's name such a burden for her was living in a mostly mono-cultural environment. When you are surrounded by people with all kinds of different names, I'm sure the temptation to judge a person based on their name is greatly diminished. And isn't is interesting that any odd-sounding name, regardless of whether it's associated with any particular ethnic group, can be a trigger for discrimination? Thanks for sharing that.

trusouldj profile image

trusouldj 2 years ago from Indiana

Interesting concept. I think that subconsciously I thought the same thing when naming my four boys --- Brandon, Anthony, Michael, Darius. I knew that I didn't want to have them named after me; a name that isn't a common ethnic name, but does have a "La" at the beginning. A name that I was proud of until I realized that my mom swiped it from another child when she was pregnant with me. A name that my dad -- her estranged boyfriend -- gave to another child he made with a different woman, though spelling it wrong.

My wife wanted to name one of them "Marshon" and some other equivalent. But I vehemently vetoed that.

cfin profile image

cfin 2 years ago from The World we live in

I came back again to this article to take your poll and I am disgusted with how many people say that you shouldn't name your kids traditionally black names. As an Irish guy, people always make stupid comments, mock me and laugh at my name. Irish people always laugh but that doesn't make it any less rude or xenophobic on The American's part.

Grab your name and hold it close. If you are proud of it, no one can mock you for it. How can they? Then it's their problem. I used to mock them back and say "McKenzie is your first name? Hahaha... That's ridiculously trailer trashy. Why would you take a last name and make it your first name". But then I realized that it just made matters worse. Be proud of your name. Keep your chin up and realize that if those mocking you were in another place, they would be mocked. It's easy for cowards to hide in the crowd. If we were all normal, the same, then none of us would ever be special.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks for reading, trusouldj. From what you shared, your name seems to have some painful associations for you. But I hope you'll be able to define the name by the way you carry yourself and your pride in being who you are, rather than allowing the name to define you. I think that's one of the secrets of having the name you were given work for you and not against you - you take it and proudly make it your own rather than just a name that was given to you before you had any say in the matter. Thanks much for commenting.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks for coming back, cfin. I think the poll results may indicate that many parents are concerned about unseen name discrimination that might cause their child to not even be considered for a job and never know why. Certainly every child should be encouraged and taught how to take pride in the name they bear, no matter who objects!

beckisgiftguides profile image

beckisgiftguides 2 years ago from Indianapolis, Indiana

I think that it's a good option to give a child differing first and middle names so that they can choose how they will be known. Nicknames don't always work: When I was working a job, nothing I could do stopped the people I worked with from calling me "Rebecca" in spite of my repeatedly reminding them I preferred "Becki." Middle names are, on the other hand, a good option. My step-son is named for his father but goes by his middle name in order to differentiate between the two of them.

Names are one of the few things we have little control over in our lives, and I personally believe that we need to be willing and able to give our children an "out" if they don't like their first names for any number of reasons. Ethnic names of /any/ variety are potentially problematic as life goes on -- not just names that are African or African-American, but Asian or Celtic names. I have to accept that my children may not like their deeply ethnic (though not African) sounding names and may opt for their middle names instead.

Thank you for a fantastic hub.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, Becki. I can understand how frustrating it can be when people won't call you by your chosen name. I had a friend whose name was Debra. When people would pronounce her name Deborah, she would firmly correct them. Names are important! I appreciate your comment.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

This really opens up a lot of interesting thought on the subject of names. I've known a couple of people who've changed their names for different reasons than you've mentioned here. It makes complete sense that subliminal discrimination may follow people throughout their life due to their names.

I was given a distinctive middle name traditionally used for boys. Without a doubt, this does subject the child to merciless taunting and jokes, constantly having to spell their name, and even being told one's spelling is wrong.

You point is well made. Why saddle a youngster with a name that's bound to cause future discomfort? I knew someone who gave their infant son only initials as a name. All his life, he'll be asked what the initials stand for. The most beautiful sound to most people is the sound of their loved one calling their name. Let's hope it's something that they will also love.

Congratulations on receiving the Hub of the Day award. Well deserved.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, Peg. My purpose was exactly what you say, to get parents to think about the issue. Then, whichever way they decide, they can prepare their child to deal with consequences that may ensue. Thanks, again for reading and commenting.

JoanTheChoirLady profile image

JoanTheChoirLady 2 years ago from Los Angeles

I'm new to HubPages, so I wasn't around when this became HOTD. Congratulations!!

There was a recent Freakonomics podcast where they looking at this issue (in their first book, they had talked about the study with the resume callbacks). When they studied African-Americans with "black" vs. "white" names (in California), their results showed that in the long run, the long-term economic outcomes were about the same for both groups, which really surprised and confused them.

Their hypothesis on it is that perhaps "Jill" will get called for an interview when "Aisha" didn't, but the racist employer who wouldn't give Aisha a callback will also reject Jill as soon as she walks through the door at the interview. The final result is the same -- not getting that job.

I like the idea of giving children the opportunity to choose their name. I've heard about Latino people who have chosen to change their LAST name in order to avoid discrimination. That must be a painful decision to make, but I agree that people should have to option to do that.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, Joan for your congrats, and for sharing about the California study. I wonder if a study covering the entire country wouldn't show a marked difference regarding name-based discrimination in "red" states vs "blue" states. In her comment, DzyMsLizzy mentioned that "Growing up in multi-racial, liberal-minded San Francisco, I never gave any of this much thought." I don't think that could be said even where I live in Pennsylvania.

biggirloakland profile image

biggirloakland 2 years ago from Oakland, Bay Area, California, USA

This is extremely interesting. Even in multi-racial, liberal-minded San Francisco this information can be news.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, biggirloakland. I'll take your word for it about the San Francisco (and presumably Oakland) area. Truth be told, I think it's something people need to be aware of all over the country.

jake 21 months ago

I get stereotyped because of my name all the time. Anyone who hears it,automatically assumes I am Jewish,and some actually have the temerity to ask me if I am,as if it made some kind of a difference.

Mostly Jewish people ask me that,and you should see the looks of disdain and disappointment,when I tell them,"No, I am not,not that it is any of your business."

I work in retail,and many of our Jewish customers won't let me wait on them,because I am not a Jew. This,despite the fact that many hebrew names,Jacob,Joshua, Sarah,Ruth,Seth,Aaron,are very common among non Jews. Sorry,I just don't get it.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 21 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

jake, as you have experienced, name stereotyping happens all the time. What you describe sounds like it could be more innocent curiosity than anything intended to be malevolent. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 19 months ago from Home Sweet Home

according to our chinese custom, teens do not have the right to change their names until they are adulthood.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 19 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

peachpurple, that's really interesting. Sounds like in China changing a name is considered much more serious than in the U. S. Thanks for sharing.

LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 17 months ago from London

On a tangental note, I was interested to read your lists of girls' and boys' names. I'm not American, so I wasn't aware of the significant differences between the names you list and typically black-American gender names.

One thing that struck me was that the names are very contrasting in origin. The boys' names include many that come straight from the Bible, particularly the Old Testament / Torah. Daniel, David, Isaac, etc. The girls' names are much more fluffy-modern.

I wonder why the difference?

PS - in the UK the boys' names list doesn't strike me as being black-British at all. My sons are Isaac and Daniel, and I think of those as being white British or Jewish names, as much as black British.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 17 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Hi, LondonGirl. I think the Bible-based names, like Isaac and Daniel, are pretty much ethnically neutral at this point, at least here in the US. But you raise a great point that I hadn't thought about. There seems to be a real difference in what you might call the "gravitas" of boys' vs girls' names, and I have no idea why. One thing to remember is that because most localities no longer record births by race in the US, that list of names may not be representative of the whole country. Thanks for sharing.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article