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***