In January 2006, the Street Beat column asked the question: Do you think some names African Americans choose for their children hinder their future? Needless to say there were some very interesting answers.
For instance, participant Jedda M. Richardson stated, “I think that a name controls your destiny regardless to what it is.” John Roberts stated, “It’s bad enough that we are already stigmatized and judged by the color of our skin and to subject ourselves to be named after cars and alcoholic beverages is absolutely pathetic.” And Cheryl Bew said, “I feel that a name is very important, especially to a young person when they enter the job market. Sometimes names can be used as a screening process or barrier even without knowing anything about the applicant.”
These three examples show that many African Americans are aware of the society we live in when it comes to stigmas based on a name or how someone may look. Their responses can be validated when you read studies done by some of the leading scholars.
In a National Bureau of Economic Research paper (2003), Roland G. Fryer, Jr., Harvard Society of Fellows and Steven D. Leavitt, University of Chicago, and the American Bar Foundation did an extensive study titled, “The Causes and Consequences of Distinctively Black Names.” In their model of understanding patterns they write: “Blacks, much more than other minorities, choose distinctive names for their children. The distinctiveness of black names has risen greatly over time, most notably in the late 1960s and early 1970s. These shifts in naming patterns have not been uniform. The median black name has shifted dramatically towards being distinctively black. Among the quarter of the black population choosing the names most common among whites, the opposite pattern is evident. Further, blacks living in highly segregated black communities today are much more likely to have distinctively black names than those in integrated communities, whereas this was not the case in the early 1960s. Finally, until the late 1970s, the choice of black names was only weakly associated with socio-economic status; in the 1980s and the 1990s, distinctively black names have come to be increasingly associated with mothers who are young, poor, unmarried, and have low education.
Recently, the TV show 20/20 tested people with identical resumes, but those with white-sounding names got callbacks and were downloaded 17 percent more often by job recruiters than the black-sounding names.
In the book Freakonomics, by Steven D. Leavitt and Stephen J. Dubner, the authors listed the following name patterns:
20 “whitest” girl names:
Molly, Amy, Claire, Emily, Katie, Madeline, Katelyn, Emma, Abigail, Carly, Jenna, Heather, Katherine, Caitlin, Kaitlin, Holly, Allison, Kaitlyn, Hannah, Kathryn
20 “blackest” girl names:
Imani, Ebony, Shanice, Aaliyah, Precious, Nia, Deja, Diamond, Asia, Aliyah, Jada, Tierra, Tiara, Kiara, Jazmine, Jasmin, Jazmin, Jasmine, Alexus, Raven
20 “whitest” boy names:
Jake, Connor, Tanner, Wyatt, Cody, Dustin, Luke, Jack, Scott, Logan, Cole, Lucas, Bradley, Jacob, Garrett, Dylan, Maxwell, Hunter, Brett, Colin
20 “blackest” boy names:
DeShawn, DeAndre, Marquis, Darnell, Terrell, Malik, Trevon, Tyrone, Willie, Dominique, Demetrius, Reginald, Jamal, Maurice, Jalen, Darius, Xavier, Terrance, Andre, Darryl
All these various reports and studies show us that in 2006 there is still a lot misunderstanding and stereotyping being practiced. I can think of many areas that even today, are not often talked about but certainly the stereotype continues. For instance, blacks are watched more closely in stores, around cash registers and still are not considered good mathematicians. There is also the light-skinned vs. dark-skinned issue. Would Beyonce get the same media coverage if she were of darker complexion? Star Jones was wonderful on the View TV show when she was overweight and smiling. When she was thinner and smiling, problems came with it.
If your name is Jamal and you are very dark-skinned, odds are you will not be hired immediately in corporate America. Pro golfer, Lee Elder is still not very well known. He has a “white-sounding” name but, he was not blonde, blue-eyed or of lighter complexion. If Tiger Woods had as dark a complexion as Lee Elder, do you think he would be as welcomed? Maybe. However, would corporate America hire a “Tiger” to be their district manager or systems analyst?
Lastly, even our computer software cannot understand black-sounding names. When using your word processing software the highlighted spell-check notifications for black names occur about 98 percent of the time.