What’s In A Name?

April 10, 2011

Just finished reading this article I spotted on Yahoo and it got me to thinking- does a name determine your future? We know that there are a lot of cultures that hold special meaning to names because they want their children to be as great as the name they are given.

I’m not convinced that if you are given a certain type of name it will influence the path you take in life. Carlton the Fourth, may sound like a guy who will reach much success on wall street and Shaniqua may sound like your hair stylist from around the way but that doesn’t mean that that is what they are. A guy who is “the fourth” can easily become some loser living in his mama’s basement at the age of 40. And a Shaniqua can become a successful lawyer.

No, I don’t think your name can affect your own personal choices but I do believe it effects what others think of you and that can affect the options that are open to you in the future. For instance I have an older first name and often, to my shock and horror, I find myself receiving newsletters and sign up forms from the AARP. One day soon I’m going to sign up. It’s a recession; I could use the discounts.

Also, my last name is a Jewish last name so I’ve received mailings from Jewish social groups. This was more common when I lived in a large Jewish community so I’m sure it was a combination of the two.

These things are actually harmless and I’m pretty lucky I have a name that’s “ethnically generic”. A woman I met shared a story that when she applied for college she did not put in her race. However, when she came to the college she found that they had put in her ethnicity as Latin. This woman was African American; however, she has a first and last name that appears Spanish. It bothered her because she didn’t place in her race because she did not deem it relevant and instead of the school letting her remain undefined, they made a decision based on her name.

I know that if I get a job, no one is assuming my race if they did not interview me prior. As an aspiring writer, I try my darndest to write diverse characters because I don’t want to be pigeon-holed as a writer of color and having a name like mine helps in that goal.

I’m hoping with a unique name like Barack Obama not being a hindrance to his success (although it was much discussed), we can get past any obstacles to help us reach our goals. And one day these names won’t even be worthy of discussion. We give power to our names, not the other way around. And if you don’t believe that, ask Oprah.

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2 comments

  1. And then there was Catherine the Great and King Solomon, the wisest man ever born, with the exception of Jesus Christ. Oh yes names do have significance. I had the pleasure of meeting IMMA nad URA PIGG who got put in jail in the 80's. Thery were awful, just like their names if you don't believe me google them.

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  2. Awesome post Cat! People also assume certain things about me because of my name. I'm not sure if you've heard of it, but check out the book Freakonomics. It has an interesting chapter on the effect of names on a child's “prognosis” of success. If you have Netflix, they also made a documentary out of the book (same title). I definitely think you'd find it interesting!

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