Race Card: Why I Might Give My Kids Biblical Names
The first time I joked about giving any children I had Biblical names, my significant other looked at me in alarm. He evidently prefers names with a little more flavor, but when you grow up with a name as unusual as mine, it’s easy to become obsessed with names that sound a bit bland. It didn’t help matters that my close family members have names such as Joan, Craig, Abby and Larry or that my Arabic-origin name, which gets butchered on the regular, has raised eyebrows in a post-9/11 world.
The madness stops with me, I told myself years ago. My kids will have names that they won’t have to spell out, that won’t get their résumés dismissed, and that won’t make it easy for others to discriminate against them. They will have generic Western names, damn it!
While nowadays people increasingly name their kids after fictional characters, fashion labels and celebrity spawn, Biblical names still rule the list of most popular names. CNN just published an article about how the name Jacob has topped the most popular baby name list for a decade. Also, in the Top 10 for boys appear the Biblical names Michael, Joshua, Daniel and Noah. The Top 10 most popular girls’ names don’t tilt so heavily towards the Bible—with Abigail and Chloe being the only such names to appear on the list. Still, it’s not like parents are naming their girls names out of left field. Classic names such as Sophia, Olivia, Emily and Emma dominate the list.
I never wanted to be one of those kids who shared a name with a handful of classmates, but it would’ve been nice to find a keychain with my name on it once in a while. Having a popular name isn’t just about fitting in, though; it’s about economic and social power. Several studies have found that employers toss out résumés featuring names that sound stereotypically black, such as Tamika or Aisha, no matter how qualified the job candidate is. Individuals with no understanding of how the black power movements—not to mention the miniseries Roots—inspired blacks to reject so-called slave names, assume that African Americans with unconventional names are “ghetto.”
It’s not that I want my children to work for a racist employer, but I don’t want their names to stop them from even getting a job interview. This is certainly why many immigrants Americanized their names after landing on Ellis Island and why many immigrants today often go by a Biblical name such as Esther professionally and a name from their native culture, such as So-Young, privately.
I don’t have kids now. But if I do, their names might be one area where I intentionally assimilate.
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