What Do You Mean My Name Is “Ghetto”?

I hate when people refer to certain names as “ghetto” because it usually has such a negative connotation.  When I first heard the word I thought it was referencing unusual-sounding names but now I know that it is referencing difficult-to-pronounce names. I’ve written about pronunciation before, but now I would like to talk about so called “Black names”.

Some African Americans have chosen to give their children some very unique names. Some of these names I can’t pronounce nor would I care to, however, I do applaud their creativity. Some argue that Black people shouldn’t name their children “crazy names” because that automatically sets their children up for failure – failure to have a meaningful career or to be taken seriously in life. Many studies have shown that job candidates who submit resumes with “Black-sounding” names have a significantly less chance of being interviewed than candidates who submit resumes with “White-sounding” names with the same credentials. But whose fault is that – the job candidate or the racist person that’s reviewing the resumes? (I think you can tell my answer on that one)

There are so many people in this country with different names. Indian names, Hispanic names, Italian names, Armenian names and the list goes on & on. Don’t think so? Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:

Indian names: Chapataqua, Malik, Rajevnder and Tatianna

Foreign names: Gerard Depardieu, Ken Watanabe, Sinead O’Connor and Etienne

Designer names: Hermes, Versace, Giuseppe and Monique Lluhllier

But nobody thinks that these names are obnoxious. Nobody questioned why Sarah Palin named her children Bristol, Trig, Willow, Track or Piper Palin. And nobody questioned why Mitt & Ann Romney named one of their sons Tagg, or why Demi Moore & Bruce Willis named their daughters Talluluh, Rumor & Scout. So if there are so many unusual sounding names from non-Black parents, why are so-called “Black names” always picked on?

What’s wrong with Black parents naming their children what they want? Why should they have to conform to the social norm by using plain “White” names? Not being able to pronounce a name doesn’t make that name stupid. My name is part of my identity & if someone thinks I have a “crazy” name then that just shows how ignorant that person is for several reasons: 1) I didn’t name myself, so if you have a problem with my name that should be taken up with my parents, 2) Just because you’ve never heard of something before (like a name) doesn’t mean it’s a bad name, that just means it’s different and 3) There is no law saying that names have to make sense phonetically, have historic or family value or follow the rules of English.

I’ve said it before & I’ll say it again – Get used to having to learn difficult names, America. Immigrants are moving to this country in droves. Over 10% of our nation is comprised of immigrants, many of which may have difficult-to-pronounce names. So as our country grows & people from all over the world continue to move here, names like “John” and “Ashley” are becoming less & less popular. I thought the whole point of living in America is to have freedom of choice, right? Well, freedom of choice includes people naming their children what they want to name them.

Children of color are unfairly judged based on the name their parents gave them. If you think little “Jamal” is not going to amount to much it’s probably because of how people treated him based on a  name which he had no control over. (Jamal, by the way is an Arabic name, not a Black one)

So before you judge someone named Trayvon or Shantal, just remember: “No one has the opportunity to give an opinion on the name they are given.”

black names3

Below is an article from the Daily Beast that speaks on racially charged names. Check it out –

Are Black Names ‘Weird,’ or Are You Just Racist?

by Jamelle Bouie

Reddit isn’t just a clearinghouse for interviews, animal pictures, and crazy stories. It’s also a place where people ask questions and have discussions. Yesterday, one user wondered about “black” names, posing a question to the “Black American parents of Reddit,” as he put it. “Before racism is called out, I have plenty of black friends,” he noted, raising the question of why he didn’t ask these alleged friends. “[I’m] just curious why you name your kids names like D’brickishaw, Barkevious D’quell and so on?”

Setting aside the many problems with this question—for one, “Black American parents” aren’t a monolith–there’s an actual answer here. In a 2003 paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, economist Roland Fryer found two things. First, that names like Reginald and Kiara are far more likely among black children than names like Jake and Molly, and second, that this is a recent development. In the 1960s, Anglo-American names were common among African American children. It wasn’t until the 1970s and the rise of the Black Power movement that this shifted in the other direction. ”The underlying philosophy of the Black Power movement,“ writes Fryer, ”was to encourage Blacks to accentuate and affirm black culture and fight the claims of black inferiority.” The adoption of “black” names is consistent with other cultural changes—like “natural hair”—prompted by the movement. African Americans wanted to distinguish themselves from whites, and naming was an easy means to the end.

Of course, there are plenty of African Americans who give their kids Anglo names. The idea that they don’t—that all black parents use the same naming convention—is ridiculous. And popular culture notwithstanding, these distinctive names aren’t especially common. The most popular African American baby names—Aaliyah, Gabrielle, Kiara, Cameron, Jordan, and Nathan—are perfectly ordinary.

If there is a question worth asking about race and naming, it’s not “why do black people use these names?” it’s “why do we only focus on black people in these conversations?” Indeed, there’s a whole universe of (hacky) jokes premised on the assumed absurdity of so-called “ghetto” names. Derision for these names—and often, the people who have them—is culturally acceptable.

But black children aren’t the only ones with unusual names. It’s not hard to find white kids with names like Braelyn and Declyn. And while it’s tempting to chalk this up to poverty—in the Reddit thread, there was wide agreement that this was a phenomenon of poor blacks and poor whites—the wealthy are no strangers to unique names. The popular Netflix show Orange is the New Black, written by a Jenji Kohan (a white woman), was based on the experiences of a Piper Kerman (also a white woman). And in last year’s presidential election, nearly 61 million people voted for a Willard Mitt Romney, at the same time that the current head of the Republican National Committee was (and is) a Reince Priebus.

On Twitter, riffing off of the Reddit thread, I mused on this double standard with a comment and a joke. “Seriously, I will take your ‘questions’ about ‘weird’ black names seriously when you make fun of Reince Priebus and Rand Paul,” followed by “White people giving their kids names like Saxby Chambliss and Tagg Romney is a clear sign of cultural pathology.” If names like “DeShawn” and “Shanice” are fair targets for ridicule, then the same should be true for “Saxby” and “Tagg.”

Most of my Twitter followers got what I was going for. But after it was retweeted by a widely followed conservative, I was deluged with angry complaints from a host of people—mostly white men—who didn’t get the punch line. “So, names like Jamelle, Mo’nique, [and] Trayvon are normal?” asked one self-proclaimed conservative. Likewise, another asked if “Jamelle, LaShonda, Trayvon, etc. are signs of advanced, successful, economically stable and crime free culture?”, which was followed by someone wondering if “names like LaShaniqua, Jamal, Porsche, Mercedes” would be our “future leaders.” Each illustrating my point that unusual black names are treated as evidence of cultural inferiority in a way that isn’t true of unusual white names.

But these responses are more than just the angry comments of Twitter racists. They underscore the extent to which our ideas of normality are tied closely to socioeconomic status. If we focus on “weird” African American names in jokes and conversation, it’s because blacks remain at the bottom of America’s racial caste system. “Hunter” is just as unusual as “Malik,” but it’s understood as “normal” because of its association with white men. It’s arbitrary, yes, but it reflects who holds power. Indeed, if the situation were reversed, odds are good there would be plenty of jokes about “dysfunctional” white people who name their children “Geoff.”

It should be said that this has material consequences in the real world. Research has consistently found that job applicants with “black-sounding” names are more likely to be rejected, regardless of qualifications. If races are our castes, then this makes sense, since—in a caste system—your status is mostly a function of your position. “Latoya” could be well-qualified for the law firm she applies to, but there’s a fair chance her “black” name marks her as undesirable.

6 thoughts on “What Do You Mean My Name Is “Ghetto”?

  1. These names are considered “ghetto” because only ghetto blacks name their children in this fashion. Middle class blacks do not give their kids names like Shamika or Nuqueeda or Quanshrequa oe LaNaysha

    1. Apparently, you’re not too well read. If you were, you would know that names you may consider “ghetto” are the same type of names that Indians name their daughters. Names like: Chandrika, Deepika, Jayati or LaVanya are very common Indian names. Are those “ghetto” too?

      Pick up a book or two – different cultures all over the world have unusual names. Thanks for reading. Ciao!

  2. Great post, all I have to say is that distinctly black names are beautiful. Love to all the Shaniquas and DeAndres out there. We should not be made to feel inferior for our names or anything else.

  3. Black people have a lot to deal with. My kids have been teased because their names are “white.” Their names are biblical, biblical family names. Can’t win for losing. I don’t care, though. I love their names. One is so traditional it has become uncommon. I like that. A lot of thought went into the names. When they are grown and feel the need to make up a “club” name, they can feel free.

    I’ll say this, the “ghetto” names you’re referring to are as close to true American names as can be, except for Native American names. They have no European roots (any of the countries there) nor are they from any other country. But I guess the first names of Hunter, Payton, River, etc. probably are “American” as well. The “ghetto” names, since many are created for the particular child, including the spelling, will have much more difficulty becoming familiar and normal because they are reused less frequently and the spelling varies. People can’t get used to seeing it and can’t learn how to spell it because it is always different. Traditional African names that have standard spellings like Rashida have been around and seen so much that they barely cause a batted eye. But we’ll never get used to names that we only see once. They are original, though, and not trendy. There’s also a difference between weird names that are based on English words that are easy to read and other names that are not. So, yeah, I may judge you for naming your kid “Toaster” but I can easily read it. I will wonder about the parents, though. I admit. And the kid named Moonbeam. I can read and pronounce the name but I admit I will assume that the parents are or were hippies, even if the person sitting in front of me is a Harvard MBA.

    I totally agree that “ghetto” name has a negative connotation. And that’s a huge issue based on the separate black experience, and socio-economic factors, education and straight out historical racism. People can look at other ethnic names and be reasonably accurate and know that this person is, say, Italian, probably Catholic, and from a certain neighborhood. But the difference is that those assumptions, even if correct, don’t include assumptions that the person is not going to fit in or is unqualified or uneducated. The assumptions based on a name that a person is from the (black) ghetto might be correct but the further assumption may be that the person will be unqualified, difficult, and under-educated and under-prepared.

    When I think about this stuff I usually disregard what the movie stars do, because they are a class in themselves. Sometimes the general public copy the names of stars, though. Demi Moore and Bruce Willis named Scout for the character in To Kill A Mockingbird, I think. It’s nice when a name, even a weird, made-up or “ghetto” name has a story. But then there’s North West. And, Blue Ivy. But the three I just mentioned are unusual but easy to pronounce and spell. Different category.

    The “ghetto” names I think you’re referring to sometimes can be difficult to read and that pisses people off. I think it makes people uncomfortable and makes them feel dumb if they can’t read it. And I think some are actually racist and others are so afraid of being seen as a racist that they’d rather ignore a person with a created name rather than stumble through it and getting chastised for not having a [insert name] in their neighborhood. These are people who are trying very hard not to see race, but then something very different is in front of them and all of their education is not helping them sound it out.

    Did you see Office Space? The guy has an Indian name that the managers can’t pronounce — “Naga . . . Naga . .. Not gonna work here anymore.” It pisses people off when the name belongs to an immigrant as well, how many jokes do we hear about names that have no vowels? Many immigrants adopt “American” names because they know that Americans cannot read or pronounce the names given to them. That speaks a lot of Americans but that’s a bigger issue. In law school I sat next to a Chinese student whose American name was, let’s say, Daniel. We had to have name tags so the professor could call on us by name. As a joke once he changed his tag to his Chinese name so he wouldn’t get called on. And actually that brings up another issue, if a student has a name that’s difficult to remember or pronounce or read (whether it’s a created name or another ethnic name) do the teachers consciously or unconsciously not call on the student and not involve them in the discussion?

    I think you raise an excellent point about how person who has the name did not choose it. Whatever anyone’s name is, it reflects a decision of the parents. And whether it’s an ethnic, Anglo, Biblical, created or common word used as a name, the child is the one who bears the burden or blessing of it.

    There is a socio-economic factor, generational and age factor as well. I remember being a little kid and young teen. I named my dolls, stuffed animals, and pretend future children and pets some crazy stuff. Had I actually had a child as a young teen, before having graduated from school or gone to college or read a lot or met a lot of people or had a job or researched my family’s genealogy, my kids would have very different names, especially if I was allowed to name the baby anything I wanted. My young teen girls have baby name lists going now that I will bet good money will disappear should they not procreate until they are over 25 (which I hope will be the case). And I think that goes across races, it’s more of an age thing which is necessarily related to education. That’s not to say that some names are “inherently better” it’s just that the choices we make as girls often don’t survive to adulthood.Think decor and fashion. And that’s not to say that an older, educated mother might not choose an unusual or created name, I think that that choice would probably happen with more thought, that’s all. Kids can’t imagine being grown up so they don’t think of how a grown up would look with a cutesy name. Kids have never had a job so they don’t know what it would be like to run a meeting with a stripper name. If we say “ghetto” names, we also have to address the “trailer trash” names as well.

    And I bet the name chosen or created by older women would more likely have a meaning. My sister, for example, named her children “traditional” names but altered the spelling slightly, not crazy different, though. She did it because she wanted the initials and first few letters to be the same as she and her husband. Her kids hate that they have regular names but could never buy anything with their names pre-printed on it because the spelling was slightly different. They are easy to pronounce and read, though.

    History is full of people who alter their names to avoid “isms” — female authors and classical composers used initials so that people assume they are men and they’d have a chance of being treated seriously. It didn’t make them any less female. They just did what helped them in their art. Then there’s the people who drop the “stein” and “berg.” I once knew of a Jewish contractor who named his company an Italian sounding name. He said that no one would take him seriously as a Jew in that industry.

    There is an urban legend in my parts of a woman who came into court with a baby named Yereenie. The mom said she made it up because she liked the sound of the name. Problem was, she spelled it Urine. That’s an education issue.

    There are consequences to names. Parents can name their kids anything they want, and have every right to stand by those names. I do think parents need to weigh how much they like the name against how the child may be affected by the name, and act accordingly. It may be that the created name wins out but much thought has to go into it.

    Thanks for bringing up this topic.

    1. Yeah, you’re right about Italian names – those names are usually traced back to ones roots not to their economic or educational background. African Americans are the only ones whose names are usually indicative of their economic background. Unfortunate.

      Asians do come into this country with “American names”, but I really think that we should learn how to properly pronounce ALL names – whether common or not.

      I never thought about teachers avoiding students with “unusual sounding” names. LOL! Great point!

      You made a great point about age versus race. Younger parents usually make more uninformed decisions versus more mature parents.

      Maybe parents who name their children unusual names should be forced to walk around with their children forever and defend the name that they gave them. Ha! Wouldn’t that be something?!

      Thanks so much for your comments!

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