Rolling your eyes at the spelling of your student’s name isn’t just ignorant, more often than not, it’s racist.

Anglicizing someone’s name is racist. Feeling that someone should spell their name differently to match your own “norm” is racist. It’s also nosy, small minded and disrespectful. However, realizing that something you’ve done is racist doesn’t mean you’re a bad person as long as you change your behavior. Know better, do better.

I recently read an article that, for all intents and purposes, shamed parents for naming their child something uncomfortable for whomever wrote the article, and for spelling more common names in an uncommon way. Like, legit wrote an entire article to articulate their disgust for the names of children. The worst part? The comments.

I don’t typically insert myself into online back and forth if I don’t know the people engaging, however, I could not read the article and then the comments and do nothing. I mean, seriously? How can you expect to live in the melting pot of the world (remember that? Remember when we celebrated that fact?) and not have a diverse population of names.

When I hopped on the comment train and suggested that the idea behind shaming parents for the spellings of their children’s name is racist, I was in the minority… in a big way. I mentioned that names are the thing by which we identify ourselves to others, and that having a unique spelling, and therefore unique name, and THEREfore a unique *identity* is heavily rooted in several cultures and families as a traditional way of preserving their own identity. You know….not the identity of anyone else, like a slave owner…. so go MYOB if someone spells their name uniquely.

My mind is blown that teachers… caring, thoughtful, nurturers of our little ones… are not recognizing that for one particular population group, unique spellings, African rooted names, and individuality were, and still are, a way of separating their identity from slave owners. So…sit down, Nancy, and shut your mouth about spellings you find difficult. Literally no one cares if you can’t spell a student’s name without committing it to memory….or so I thought. According to the comments of this particular essay….so many people care. And so many people shared with me that my comment was a long list of negative adjectives and the fact that I jumped to the conclusion that it’s racist just proves how racist I am.

Yep. That happened. WTF.

I’ve heard lots of jokes and kind hearted exasperation about Irish names, but never the visceral belittling and questioning that other non-white cultures and families receive. If you are unfamiliar with Irish names, let me give you an example. Niamh is pronounced Neeve. And for some reason (she’s white?) no one gets nasty and blames her mother for doing something ridiculous, like naming her child a traditional name that belongs to her family and history and culture. But if you want to spell a child’s name who is a child of color, well then you’re stupid and looking for attention and apparently, disqualified from naming your child. What the actual?!

I decided to do a little research because my reaction was so emotional I wanted to be sure I wasn’t just making all this up. I swear I had a sound, logical and statistically backed reason for being outraged at people not being outraged by the article Scary Mommy published about “annoyingly spelled names.”

Want to know more? Read on. I pasted some of what I found for your enlightenment. Sure did.

“A study published in 2005 found that teachers had lower expectations for children with unusually spelled names like Da’Quan, even when compared to their siblings with “less black-sounding” names like Damarcus.” NY TIMES

“Diversification of baby names in America started in the late 1960s during a larger sociocultural shift that emphasized individuality, and that’s where names for black and white Americans began to diverge. As black Americans began to give unique names to their children (much more so than white Americans), there was a sharp rise in the prevalence of distinctively black-sounding names — influenced at least in part by the championing of black culture by the Black Power movement.” NY TIMES

“And while nontraditional names are testaments to nonconformity, they do not signal combativeness or unacceptable personality fits. They signal the multitudes of different experiences that shape people of color, and increased knowledge of these experiences can be wielded to combat bias.”NY TIMES (NY TIMES article in full that I’m referencing)

“Because of the vibrant Creole culture in Louisiana, there is also a French influence in some African-American names. This includes not only French surnames but also given names beginning with “La,” (e.g. Lawanda), “De” (e.g. Deandre’) and with the use of apostrophes (e.g. Andre’, Mich’ele), that represent accents that were not yet available on American typewriters at the time.”

If we focus on “weird” African American names in jokes and conversation, it’s because blacks remain at the bottom of America’s racial caste system. “Hunter” is just as unusual as “Malik,” but it’s understood as “normal” because of its association with white men. It’s arbitrary, yes, but it reflects who holds power. Indeed, if the situation were reversed, odds are good there would be plenty of jokes about “dysfunctional” white people who name their children “Geoff.”



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