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Black Names

It occurs to me that when blacks give their kids such preposterous names, that a philosophical statement is being made. Before I go into that, I have to consider how I named my own children. One of our boys was named after me, and the other was named after a relative of my wife’s. Our daughter was given a standard Christian name from the Bible. The names of our children reflect a respect for those that have preceded us, and a continuity with a larger culture that came before us. All three of my children have names which originate in the middle ages or even before, in Biblical times. Their very names bespeak an embracing of Western civilization, and its historical character. And the historical character of the West has long been grounded in the belief that God is real, that He is knowable, and that He has made Himself known in history, in the person of Jesus Christ.  And this is the heritage, this is the Living Truth that I would like to pass on to my children.

What deeper truths are being passed on to her child by the mother of a Kanthony? Or a Dartravious? Or a RaShawn, DaQuan, or Trayvon?

What is the message and the identity inherited by a LaShonda, a Mia, an Ebony?

You see, I think that a name can be an implicit statement of solidarity with a culture, but can also be a statement of rejection of a culture. The rash of absurd black names which have really been prevalent since the 1960’s does not represent a new culture, as much as it does a rejection of the larger white, Western culture. This wasn’t true until the 1960’s and the civil rights movement. Obviously not everyone agrees with this. David Zax wrote several years ago at Salon:

Of course, the vast majority of unusual black names are nothing like Clitoria or Tanqueray. They are names like — to page at random through “Proud Heritage” — the catchy Maneesha and Tavonda, the magisterial Orencio and Percelle, or the evocative Lakazia and Swanzetta. They are names emerging from a tradition of linguistic and musical invention much like those that gave us jazz and rap. And they are names that have paved the way for Americans of all classes and colors to begin to loosen up a stodgy culture of traditional name giving.

Note the breathless adjectives he applies: ‘catchy,’ ‘magisterial,’ and ‘evocative.’ Or else: “emerging from a tradition of musical and linguistic and musical invention.” Earlier in the article he assures us that these names are actually “distinctive” that that there is a rich, storied history to these names. He’s a little light on the history–he basically just tells us that it all started in the 60’s, and that it’s very, very rich. Also, he assures us that white ridicule has kept up with the trend, much of it coming from racist traditions (i.e. white people making fun of absurd black names) and is misguided/misleading–he cites (probably apocryphal) stories that circulate about black babies named Lemonjello, Chlamydia, or Shithead.

For those who say that Swanzetta or Kanthony are actually a throwback to their African heritage I would say one thing–go to Africa. There is no question that honest African names are quite different from those chosen by white Westerners. But they have nothing to do with modern black American names.

The sad fact is that the way black people in America name their children reflects an abandonment of culture, and an abandonment of history. However optimistically disingenuous white liberals like David Zax spin it, the reality is that their names have no grounding in a larger coherent culture, and there are not larger truths being passed on to black children by their parents. If anything, they are being taught–on a basic level–that rejection of white Western culture is their cultural ideal, their highest truth. So when young Kanthony asks his mama where his name came from, she just shrugs and says, “Well basically I made it up.  At least it ain’t white.”

Zaheer writes:

Interesting post.

In a way, this is obvious, because Afro-American identity has been defined by rejection of White/Western culture since the civil rights movement. So, as you correctly point out, names being one aspect of cultural identity – well, let’s just say the plethora of these types of names is testament to what you’re saying.

However, I must differ (slightly) and say that, the names aren’t really “made up”, i.e. in the sense that all names are “made up”, but some have a longer history and are tied to a larger cultural/religious identity.

Besides the anti-white element, there is some relation with black culture as separate from “anti-white culture” – this is mostly music, ghetto culture, mixed with some elements of “African-sounding” names. Of course, it can be argued that Black music and culture is itself almost entirely influenced by “anti-white culture” anyway, but that’s debatable.

Also note that paganism (“heathenism” you would call it) was practised by Europeans for far longer than Christianity, so, it can be argued that giving pre-Christian names is a greater statement of embracing Western culture. Again, debatable but thought I’d mention it. :-)

Craig writes:

Mia is not a faux black name and should not feature as an example of your thesis.

WI responds:

I agree that Mia is not a faux black name and that it is not a perfectly chosen example. A ‘Bonifa,’ for example, would better demonstrate the arbitrary and detached-from-larger-culture mode of thought that characterizes black name choosing. ‘Mia,’ while not entirely arbitrary (I believe it has its roots in Dutch), still demonstrates the choosing of a name for just aesthetic purposes, without any larger symbology or meaning behind it. Admittedly, that’s not an entirely fair point, as many people of all races choose name simply because they are pretty. But the larger point of the post is that blacks in fact overwhelmingly choose non-Western names, even preferring nonsense names to anything that remotely seems white. Occasionally a ‘Mia’ may creep in–a ‘Molly’ almost never does.

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