Pop Culture, Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

Are You A “Namist?”

***Hello, people of VSB.com. Please welcome star of “Shit Diva Dudes Say To Bougie Black Girls” and my ace boon goon Gem Jones as she makes her VSB guest post debut***

Recently in a GroupMe convo with friends, someone mentioned Quvenzhané Wallis, star of Beasts of the Southern Wild and youngest actor to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. Before I could remark about having never heard of this film, or show praise for this child’s high accolade at such a young age, I immediately focused on her name. “Wait, is her name really Quvenzhané?”

I googled her to see if this wasn’t some errant rumor. My follow up response to my search was, “Why is her mama’s name Qulyndreia?”

This certainly wasn’t the first time I’ve seen an “ethnically creative” name that caused me to form a serious side eye. I mean, I’m an NFL fan – seeing names like D’Brickashaw, Jacquizz, Knowshon, De’Anthony and LaQuinton are commonplace. I have also come to regularly expect texts from my brother containing a list of students he works named LaDravious, Dan’kevien, Markevius, Jonquerrius, Marionique, Jamorrious, and LaPhil. My reaction is always the same: “What is with the egregious use of apostrophes, La- prefixes, and -ious/eous suffixes?” My brother and I have even gone so far as to attempt to conjugate and combine the most common names into as many remixes as possible just for fun. And then, of course, there are the infamous (and possibly nonexistent) Orangejello, Lemonjello, and Le-a.

I think some of these “unique” and “uncommon” names are just too over the top and I don’t like them. But it wasn’t until being introduced to Quvenzhané that I considered my reaction was judgmental. I was so distracted by a name that I failed to acknowledge and credit the person to whom the name belonged. I felt bad about it.

Does this make me a namist?

We all have our prejudices and make assumptions based on superficial knowledge. We might even justify our opinions based on our experiences, especially if said opinions are more “rude! LOL” as opposed to “you’re becoming Rush Limbaugh” on the “how f*cked up is your way of thinking?” scale. They’re not right but if kept at bay they don’t have to be harmful. We also have our preferences, our likes and dislikes. We’re perfectly entitled to them and don’t have to explain them to anyone. But sometimes the line between preference and prejudice is so thin and we can cross it before we know it.

This is where I’m a bit conflicted about my feelings about names – do I harbor some deep rooted prejudice against “Black” names?

On the one hand, I just think some names are ugly and silly. A person named DaRealyst? Really, doe? Kids with names that belong one a bottle – Tequila and Hennessey – and not on a playground? Why? It’s like the parents were having a “most likely to spell the Eiffel tower as ‘ifold tower’ and become a twitter trending topic” or “most likely to be THAT eye-witness interviewed by a news crew with an absurd story that starts off with, ‘what had happened was…’” naming contest. Why do my people have to stand out with names that make no sense?

On the other hand, who the hell cares what I think? Who am I to say someone’s name is acceptable or not? There isn’t some set standard or criterion to measure an appropriate name, other than it just sounds/looks weird to some. But yet I’m guilty of asserting an arbitrary bias on others. People have the right to be as creative as they please, right? Do names have to have a deep meaning or translation to be legitimate?

Sure, there are studies to suggest “Black sounding names” are more likely to be passed over in the job market. There’s even a study that correlates unpopular/uncommon names with criminality. But so what? Should parents be restricted to certain types of names because of possible discrimination (discrimination that may come regardless of name)? Should negative perceptions guide one’s decision on what to name their child? How important is the perceptibility of names? Do our names define who we are, where we come from, and where we’re going? Are names more than an ID?

Perhaps this is just a Black burden. White people don’t have to answer these questions or have to defend their names. They can have seemingly unorthodox names (with an explanation as simple as, “my mom ate an apple once, while reading about Adam and Eve”) without suffering consequences more severe than others simply thinking the names sound strange and weird. But Black folks know different. Their differently composed names can warrant much harsher scrutiny – even from their own – that goes beyond aesthetics. Assumptions of class, education, and potential for success are often made.

I don’t think I’m wrong to find Quvenzhané, LaDravious and any name with a stupid ass apostrophe to be unappealing, just as I don’t think it’s wrong to find people’s art, fashion sense, or faces unappealing. I don’t like what I don’t like. But I do worry that my dislike of these names are just a symptom of a larger problem. I worry that my preference for more subtle names is really a prejudice, and I am subconsciously reducing people’s worth based on their name. I don’t mull over what kind of person I think they are or where they come from (her name is Twerkeisha so she must be a low budget stripper or have remedial parents only 13yrs older than her), but I’m worried I might actually be doing something worse – dismissing them all together without bothering to scratch the surface. And being that judgmental makes me uncomfortable.

(But Qulyndreia??? Really???)

***You can find Gem Jones on Twitter, where she straddles the line between ratchetness and respectability***

Filed Under:
Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a contributing editor for EBONY.com. He resides in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes.

  • M.F. Gem Jones, BS, RGS, NBR, PhD… and you sir?

    wooooo am i famous now?!?! *does happy dance*

    • I Am Your People

      are you doing to add “H.N.I.C.” to the end of this?

      -IAYP, GED

      • CNotes

        “IAYP, GED”

        LMAO!!!! You must quit. I swear….we would be best friends in real life! : )

      • Gem Jones

        lmfaoooooo after a book deal ill add HNIC ;-)

        • Brother Mouzone

          I am Brother Mouzone, and yes, I’m a NAMIST…*walks away in shame..

    • predoctabird

      I think this officially makes you famous! And I’m a certified namist too. I almost had to walk out of church one day when a young new member introduced himself as Courvoisier (and I bet you it was spelled some even fancier way). Then I realized I was in church and shouldn’t be all judgy… his mama made it hard not to judge though.

  • Muze

    GO GEM!!

    okay. lemme read now.

    • Gem Jones

      lol thanks but do better!

  • Tristan

    Funny as I was just making fun of the fact that Future’s government is Naydavius. I’m somewhat of a namist, while I get the idea of being unique, I want my future kids to have names even the substitute teacher can pronounce.

    • Tx10inch

      I was seriously thinking of naming my daughter “Unique.” Put then I figured that would’ve been too much pressure on her to live up to the hype. It would drive her straight to the pole and she would hate me forever.

      • Aly

        I had a friend in high school named Unique. Nice girl. I’m pretty sure she did not become a stripper, though I haven’t talked to her in awhile.

        • Val

          There was a character in the film New Jack City named, “Uniqua”.

          • Iceprincess2

            I went to school with a “uniqua” for real. And a “cynkeithia”. Her mom’s name was Cynthia, her dad, Keith. So there you go! Lol

        • predoctabird

          I knew someone in high school named Quinique… I guess Unique wasn’t unique enough.

      • Perverted Alchemist

        One of the members of the R&B group Solo had a member whose name was Eunique Mack.
        -
        Quick side note: The lead singer of the group Public Announcement? His name was Feloney Davis…yep…Feloney…

      • The Human Spider

        Y’know, there’s a person named “Unique” that once worked in the adu…never mind…

      • Britico Chick

        i know a child called unique…i’m a namist and i think, to be quite frank, this is primarily an african american phenomenon. i’m sure black peeps in europe may be leaning towards the trend, but we’re still conventional – using Anglocized names, Arabic/Islamic or African ones

    • Perverted Alchemist

      “Funny as I was just making fun of the fact that Future’s government is Naydavius. ”
      - Nothing’s funnier than reading the writing credits of a hip hop and R&B album post 2000. The kill me with their government names in the credits, LOL!
      -
      However a few of the artists I’m a fan of have some rather funny names. As everyone knows, I’m a huge fan of Phonte. As much as I respect his talents, I still cannot get over the fact dude’s name really is Phonte! No bullsh*t!
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonte
      -
      And then there’s Sunshine Anderson, which I thought was a stage name…that’s her real name, too.
      -
      And Beyoncé? I mean…her name is f*cking Beyoncé!!!!

      • Charcoal Burnt Brother Lover

        I actually like Beyonce’s name…it’s UNIQUEalicious.

        • I Am Your People

          He mom’s maiden name is Beyince, but her country azz pronounced it Beyonce. Lots of people do have their mom’s maiden name as their first name, so I’ll let King B cook

          • Perverted Alchemist

            But Beyoncé? What kind of f*ckery is this???

            • Charcoal Burnt Brother Lover

              it’s the kind of phakkery I like. now who gon check me boo?

            • Todd

              It’s Louisana Creole French. At least it’s something real, unlike most of these made up names.

              • The Human Spider

                Exactly.

          • Britico Chick

            for real? i learn a new thing every time i read this blog! LOL. do we take beyonce’s name seriously because she’s worth mega bucks? it doesn’t sound like it’s trying – and that’s the problem with the names that Gem gave: all of these parents trying too darn hard to make their kids sound cool or different – only to sound nonsensical

        • Tristan

          i actually met another Beyonce….she was a walmart cashier -__- i cant wait to see the new christened “Oprahs” and Baracks grow up to be regular ass ppl

          • NY2VA

            True story… On inauguration day, WTOP sent out a tweet that there was a little African American girl who had been separated from her family and they were looking for her on the mall. About 15 minutes later, they tweeted again to let folks know that she had been found and was safe. Praise Jesus, lil BEEANCE was safe. Yes, her people named her Beeance.

            I’m done.

    • Camilleblu

      Nay-day! Nay-day! Going down!!!…..sorry…that’s what came to mind….

    • WIP

      “Naydavius”
      I got a good laugh off of this.

    • Gem Jones

      lol @ even the substitute can pronounce.
      -
      my name is not creative or “different” its just long (10 letters). and ppl eff it up all the time. so im less worried about ppl having trouble reading/spelling a common but many lettered name with lots of vowels than i am spellig a name thats just impossible to say/spell/hear to begin with.

  • H.H.H. aka Dan Smith

    I’m just going to leave this right here.
    http://youtu.be/gODZzSOelss

    • WayUPThere
    • MrsBagnet

      This skit was the best thing that happened on TV last year.

    • Todd

      It’s funny because it’s true. LOL

    • That Ugly Kid

      Lol, I immediately knew what video this was without even clicking on the link. I have this episode of Key & Peele recorded. It’s hilarious.

      • H.H.H.

        Torque [Construction Noise] Lewith, Coppin State…

    • Gem Jones

      hilarious skit. i laugh every time i see the name Aaron.

  • Tx10inch

    Gem Jones, who? GEM JONES!

    • Gem Jones

      lol *flashes pearl white grill*

  • Dwilson87

    I have actually seen a girl named Le-a and the worst was actually a whit kid the name was pronounced Shitod, but spelled S-h-i-t-h-e-a-d…hell I even had a friend whose mom called him Javaris, but his name wad spelled Jarvis smh I really want to know what some ppl are thinking when they name their kids

    • Perverted Alchemist

      “I really want to know what some ppl are thinking when they name their kids”
      -
      I could tell you what someone told me, but it would make my head hurt just thinking about it…

    • Gem Jones

      ah man i forgot to mention the names that are spelled one way but are pronounced completely nonsensically!!!
      -
      had a friend named Jairus but pronounced it “JerEeUs” and one name Tanance pronounced “TenEece” (O_O) i mean i get english words arent all spelled how theyre said but come on!

  • http://verysmartbrothas.com The Champ

    Welcome to the other side and shit, Gem. The weather is usually nice, but we have to deal with aardvarks every now and then.

    Anyway, I generally agree with your post. (I am a loud and proud namist as well) But, there’s one part I do disagree with.

    .

    “Perhaps this is just a Black burden. White people don’t have to answer these questions or have to defend their names. They can have seemingly unorthodox names (with an explanation as simple as, “my mom ate an apple once, while reading about Adam and Eve”) without suffering consequences more severe than others simply thinking the names sound strange and weird.”

    .

    White people with names that suggest a certain ethnicity or a certain class get that type of pushback too. (I think it was one of Gladwell’s books where he mentioned that a name like “Jethro” would get discriminated against as much as “Tyrone” would) This namist issue seems to be more of a class issue — since “lower class” people are typically more likely to give their children unusual/unattractive names — than a race one.

    • Todd

      Exactly. I also remember reading that when comparing the lives of people with unusual names and the normal-named siblings that they generally had similar struggles in life. The issue isn’t necessarily having an odd name but having the type of parents (usually lower class) that would give you a name like that in the first place.

    • chriscogmta

      This issue is addressed in depth in a chapter in Freakeconomics. According the numbers, the whole world is a bunch of Namist!!

    • Gem Jones

      youre absolutely right. i was thinking more in terms of “creative” names (think names of celebritys kids) and not more common names that are associated with a certain type of group.

  • Cheech

    I’m definitely a namist. There’s a youtube video of me that proves it but I do try not to judge. But what bugs me a lot is when I hear a name and somebody asks me if it is African….That sets me off more than the name itself

  • That Ugly Kid

    Yes. I’m a Namist. I don’t care. Now, I don’t judge an individual based on his/her name. I don’t write them off as automatically being ghetto/stupid/etc. I don’t pre-judge their character or anything like that. What I do, however, is judge their parents. Moreso the moms as it was most likely the mother who named her child this bullsh*t because they thought they were being creative. True story, my ex told me that if we had a daughter, we should name her either Christianity, or Destination. She was not joking. These were the two names she was torn between.

    -

    So it p!sses me off when I see people name their kids some sh*t that could EASILY be a nickname. Like Queentiana. Seriously? Why not just name her Brianna and call her “Queen” as a nickname? That way, her legal name won’t get her beat the f*ck up in the girls bathroom everyday at school, and you can still call her “Queen”. It’s a win/win.

    • Tx10inch

      Totally agree w/this. I tend to judge their parents first. Some folks can’t help their parents were obviously high while coming up with names. No lie, I once dated a girl named Tequila. Hella smart, carried herself well and made good money as an RN.

      So when I first met her and she told me her name, I kept resisting the urge to ask her what the hell parents were thinking. I don’t think I ever did. People with messed up names get tired of answering those questions…so I let it be, and cursed her parents out quietly in my head everytime I called her name.

      • Sweet GA Brown

        The one female I knew named Tequila actually got her name from her mother who told her that is how she got her.

      • NY2VA

        Back in the 90s, my husband and I were eating at a Chinese buffet restaurant in Columbus, Ohio. There was a gorgeous little biracial girl, who couldn’t have been any more than 3 years old, eating with her white mom and black dad. When they were done eating and they were on their way out, the mother looked at that precious baby girl and said, “Come on Bacardi.” My husband and I looked at each other and just shook our heads. I pray that her current livelihood does not involve, poles, bandz, or clear heels.

        • Brother Mouzone

          LMFAO!!!….why did I read this as I was drinking a glass of water..? Luckily, nobody saw the spit take.

    • DG

      Lol @ naming the child Christianity or Destination…

      Could’ve been worse….your ex could’ve really been on something and tried some rather unique biblical names/terms…can you imagine a little girl named Judas (or J’udas…you know how ppl love to throw in that apostrophe). How about these:

      Perdition
      Gomorra
      Armageddon
      Revelations (I have a feeling there are some lil’ girls with this name)

      • Sweet GA Brown

        Ju’derrica
        Perditiana
        Gomorriana
        Armagedecia

        JuDacion
        Perditivious
        LaGomorrion
        Armagevius

    • Perverted Alchemist

      My youngest sister once went to school with someone named Courvoisier…

      • Iceprincess2

        There was a girl on the Maury show named Toshiba. Like the tv. You know her mom was just watching tv a lot when she was pregnant, & just kept seeing the brand name at the bottom & was like “hmmm…” Rotfl

        • Perverted Alchemist

          I wonder if she knew about the origin of the Toshiba name…
          -
          “Toshiba was founded in 1939 as Tokyo Shibaura Electric K.K. through the merger of Shibaura Seisaku-sho (founded in 1875) and Tokyo Denki (founded in 1890). The company name was officially changed to Toshiba Corporation in 1978.”

        • Todd

          You’re joking, right?
          _
          Um, does Ambi endorse blog commentors? I’ll take a lot of their product cheap, and I’ll make sure to mention it in every comment, not matter how irrelevant. :)

          • Iceprincess2

            Nope, I’m dead azz :-( BTW, I love ambi! It works good & smells good.

        • WIP

          BOL! Po’ lil’ Toshiba…

        • Kema

          I knew a Toshiba in middle school. As a child with a ‘different’ name, I never thought much about her name . I’m sure when someone first decided on names like Rose, Lilly, Violet or Jewel their naming decisions came under similar scrutiny.

          • Iceprincess2

            Girl, there’s nothing wrong with “kema.”

            • Kema

              lol! You are too much!

    • chameleonic

      lol. every female has those moments when she picks out baby names with her boyfriend…a few months before they break up. if you pick out baby names with someone or fool around with the idea of getting married someday, your relationship is doomed. i speaks truth.

      buuuut i have combed many a languages for beautiful words that roll off the tongue and imagine how it sounds for a teacher to pronounce it. i know in america it sounds beautiful to multi linguists and is easily pronounced, but americans are just mad behind. like, what if ghetto names could actually develop into combinations of cultural cues?

      tal’m bout ghetto. that name is internationally poetic.

      • chameleonic

        pff. when i have a son his name will be ridiculous but when he globe trots itll translate to,” hello, my name is [homey bow down to the alpha and omega] leonidas morpheus collins.”

      • That Ugly Kid

        every female has those moments when she picks out baby names with her boyfriend…a few months before they break up. if you pick out baby names with someone or fool around with the idea of getting married someday, your relationship is doomed. i speaks truth.”

        -

        It’s funny you say this. Because my ex and I broke a few months after talking about having babies and getting married. After that convo, things started going downhill very fast.

        • Iceprincess2

          I don’t blame you, with those names she was picking!!

        • Rewind

          It is usually the first indicator that your relationship is built on a lie. That’s what nobody seems to understand. As a dude, it doesn’t even hit you til like 2 days after the conversation, when you’re like “whaaaaaat the fawk just happened”.

    • Tentpole

      Well said TUK. But lets be real, the people who make these low functioning decision are a product of a wasted mind and the result of a broken condom.

      • Gem Jones

        now i disagree here. while that may often be the case, i know a few parents who have made questionable name decisions but arent low life ppl. so to some degree i feel bad judging the parents too cuz theyre not all unlearned or immature ppl

      • Gem Jones

        now i disagree here. while that may often be the case, i know a few parents who have made questionable name decisions but arent low life ppl. so to some degree i feel bad judging the parents too cuz theyre not all unlearned or immature ppl

    • AYFKM

      LMAO! Did you end things because of her choice of names? That is horribly hilarious. Christianity or Destination. Negative. SN: It’s usually the Queentiana’s that are the ones doing the beating from what I’ve observed.

    • Gem Jones

      im mostly judging the parents too. but i felt bad when i actually judged the kid (but just not acknowledging HER).
      -
      that said…. ChristianITY?? DestinATION?? not Christian/Kristian or Destiny?? damn. smdh. again i say WHY???
      -
      i guess ill never understand some ppls taste

      • That Ugly Kid

        Yep. Christianity and Destination. Oh and FYI, my last name is Walker. So now you know why I was even more offended at the mention of her naming my daughter Destination. I’m also an Atheist, so naming her Christianity is a no go as well. It was just an all around terrible day for humanity.

    • Rewind

      I once knew a chick who had a friend that was pregnant. She was going to name the baby Dynasty…because Roc-a-fella Records was poppin at the time and Jay kept screaming Dynasty ni-gga! Holla!

      • MissRae

        *Throws Dynasty sign* It’s the Roc in here. Ok, I just had to do it, lol.

  • Carille

    Hilarious!! I’m sitting at my desk in Nairobi reading this, laughing out loud and I want to share, but no one here can relate. On a side note I have meet some Kenyans with names like Martin Luther (not an MLK reference), Adolf, Stalin, Joe Biden, etc. after famous historical figures. Black people are just creative in their own special ways… :)

    • Nyangi

      Carille, I’m also in Nairobi and laughing my head off. I have a cousin named Hallelluyah! Like so unnecessary!

    • namia

      Hi fellow East African :-)

    • Sasa

      Hello Africans!
      Im From S.A :-D

    • Todd

      Well, I went to Martin Luther High School, so I can rock with Martin Luther as a name. Just make sure he doesn’t go to Long Island Lutheran. If he does, he needs to die slowly from my bare hands. :)
      _
      But Joe Biden as a name. Wow….these people need access to YouTube STAT. They would kill their own parents with their bare hands in cold blood to change their kids name. LOL

      • Gem Jones

        lmbo!

    • Sweetsass

      Yes. Some African cultures do way too much. I’m looking at Nigerians with their eleventy million middle and last names.

    • predoctabird

      Speaking of names after historical figures, I give you the gem from just a few months ago… http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/11/08/kenyan-mother-names-twins-romney-and-obama/