February 12, 2010
The (wrong) name game
We still haven’t picked a name but we’ve narrowed it down a bit (no, we’re not telling you our current choices). but I came across an interesting article on Slate.com – A Roshanda by Any Other Name How do babies with super-black names fare? which starts off with this story..
In 1958, a New York City father named Robert Lane decided to call his baby son Winner. The Lanes, who lived in a housing project in Harlem, already had several children, each with a fairly typical name. But this boy?well, Robert Lane apparently had a special feeling about him. Winner Lane: How could he fail with a name like that?
Three years later, the Lanes had another baby boy, their seventh and last child. For reasons that no one can quite pin down today, Robert decided to name this boy Loser. Robert wasn’t unhappy about the new baby; he just seemed to get a kick out of the name’s bookend effect. First a Winner, now a Loser. But if Winner Lane could hardly be expected to fail, could Loser Lane possibly succeed?
Loser Lane did in fact succeed. He went to prep school on a scholarship, graduated from Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, and joined the New York Police Department, where he made detective and, eventually, sergeant. Although he never hid his name, many people were uncomfortable using it. To his police colleagues today, he is known as Lou.
And what of his brother? The most noteworthy achievement of Winner Lane, now in his late 40s, is the sheer length of his criminal record: more than 30 arrests for burglary, domestic violence, trespassing, resisting arrest, and other mayhem.
It then goes on to talk about “The Causes and Consequences of Distinctively Black Names,” a research paper written by a white economist (Steven Levitt, a co-author of the Slate.com article) and a black economist (Roland G. Fryer Jr., a young Harvard scholar who studies race). The paper acknowledged the social and economic gulf between blacks and whites but paid particular attention to the gulf between black and white culture. Blacks and whites watch different TV shows, for instance; they smoke different cigarettes. And black parents give their children names that are starkly different than white children’s.
I bring all this up because one of the names I considered (but was vetoed) was Malcolm. Its a name I’ve liked for some time and associate with one real life person, whom I know, and one fictitious person, whom I’ve never met. Unfortunately, most people seem to associate it with Malcolm X and say that its a “black name” even though Malcolm in the Middle is very white – very.
But from that same article comes these lists of the 20 Whitest and Blackest names. My question to you is, are these names really white or black? And how hard is it for the other side to appropriate one of these names?
The 20 Whitest Boy Names