From my late middle to early high school years, I religiously watched The Tyra Banks Show after school. Some of Tyra’s best episodes included her conducting some sort of social experiment like the one in the video below:
On a recent episode of Black-ish, Dre (Anthony Anderson) and Bow (Tracee Ellis-Ross) found out the sex of their upcoming baby; it’s a boy! Dre decides the baby should be named DeVante (like DeVante Swing from Jodeci). He chooses DeVante because he wants their son to have a “black” name which would allow him to thrive in his blackness and reclaim his ethnic roots. Bow and others disagreed, believing-like many people in the video above-that giving their son a more ethnic sounding name would give him a disadvantage when it came to job and college applications. Dre’s critics also concluded that DeVante would have to face the difficulties that come along with having a unique name and, sadly, put up with the negativity that comes along with having a black sounding name.
Name choosing tends to be the one area expectant parents pore over the most, so how much does a person’s name truly matter? Business Insider lists a number of ways in which a person’s name has been proven to affect them. Some are surprising, like more unique names being linked to juvenile delinquency and the impact your name has on your spending habits. Others are not so surprising, like white-sounding names increasing your chances of getting hired and people favoring you more if your name is easy to pronounce. Basically, all of the ways listed can factor into the judgments made by the guests on Tyra and the characters of Black-ish’s dislike for the name DeVante.
I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with my name. For one, it’s way too common. From the mid-80’s to mid-90’s, Jessica was frequently the most popular name for baby girls or came in a close second. This is the reason I often went through elementary school referred to as “Jessica F.” in order to distinguish myself from the other Jessica commonly found in my class. It’s also how there ended up being four Jessicas (including myself) in my high school Algebra II class (there was a guy named Jesse in there, too-OMG!). I even know two women with the same exact first and last name as me, one of whom happened to be a teacher at my middle school. My life!
According to the black community, Jessica is also considered a “white girl” name. Growing up, this comment typically came from black friends of mine and usually came along with a tone of confusion or annoyance. It would basically come off as “why would your parents name you some white stuff like that?” Girl, bye!
On the flip side, however, I’ve sometimes enjoyed my name. Shamefully, I’ve enjoyed the racial ambiguity it has given me. Going along with the list by Business Insider, my name could be placed on a job application or a teacher’s class list and they wouldn’t be able to guess whether I was Black, white, mixed, Asian, or whatever before meeting me. I can also find my name on key chains and mugs without a problem. There’s always a Jessica!
Substitute teachers never had to stumble over or mispronounce my name. I never had to go ahead and say it for them because I knew I was next on the roll and knew they would struggle. My name was never branded “ghetto” or a “black girl” name by people who had no idea about either, i.e. kids who thought they were cool and down with the culture simply because they listened to Lil Wayne.
During a lesson on reflective narratives with my sixth-grade students, we studied a short story called “Why Couldn’t I have Been Named Ashley” by American-born Nigerian Immaculeta “Imma” Achilike. Imma’s story details how she hated her African name as a child for a few of the reasons I listed above. She hated how it made her different and wished she could just fit in the Ashleys, Brittanys, and Nicoles in her class. It isn’t until her family visits Nigeria and she explains her ordeal to her cousin that she begins to see her situation differently. Her cousin explains to her the rich history behind her name and how she should be proud to have it. Through her name, she ultimately overcomes all her insecurities about her identity and is able to become her true self.
So, how much does your name truly define you and who you are as a person? I don’t think that much. I think you should take your name-good, bad, ugly, unique, common-and be the very best you that you can be. People can make their assumptions off the moniker you’ve been labeled with from birth all they want, but it’s up to you to really define who you are and what you stand for. LaQuesha is just as worthy as Amy and Sam is no different from DeMarcus. It’s all on you-YOU name it!
X’s and O’s,