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DARE TO ASK: Discussing distinctively black names



Why do African-American children always have names most people have never heard of?

Lizzie, 72, white, Jacksonville


I guess you forgot about Gwyneth Paltrow’s baby, Apple. And Demi Moore has daughters named Rumer, Scout and Tallulah.

Sharon, black, Clinton Township, Mich.

For many years African-Americans had to acknowledge names given by slavemasters. Now many African-American are developing their own identity since many have lost a connection with their African culture.

Teresa, 30, black, Detroit

I, too, scratch my head when I hear these crazy names. When you meet a black girl named Sharquita, you’re dealing with someone whose parents are scarring their child in a feeble attempt to be unique.

Rick, 32, black, Atlanta

I didn’t hear a strange name for a black person until I moved to Florida. Now I’m surrounded by Laquisha, Vshati and Latiera. It’s silly. Will we ever have a Secretary of State named Vshati?

Jessica, white, Jacksonville

I guess you forgot our Secretary of State: Condoleezza.

Peter, 21, black, Jacksonville

Experts say

White University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt (he of the best-selling Freakonomics) and black Harvard race scholar Roland Fryer wrote a paper in 2003 titled The Causes and Consequences of Distinctively Black Names.

Such names took hold in the early ’70s, they reported, as a holdover of the Black Power movement, whose main mission was to stress African culture and beat down the notion of black inferiority.

To take the issue a giant step further, however, they mined the rich birth-certificate data of every Californian born since 1961 — each child’s name and race, and their parents’ marital status, level of education, ZIP codes and hospital bill payment method.

They found that those most likely to give a child an unusual black name were unmarried, low-income, undereducated teen mothers from black neighborhoods. In Fryer’s opinion, the names are given to show solidarity with the black community. (The “blackest” names? Imani, Ebony and Shanice for girls, and DeShawn, DeAndre and Marquis for boys. The “whitest”? Molly, Amy and Claire for girls, and Jake, Connor and Tanner for boys.)

But do blacks with non-“Dick and Jane” names have worse life outcomes on average? Well, yes, but not because of their names, the researchers found.

As they wrote: “If two black boys, Jake Williams and DeShawn Williams, are born in the same neighborhood and into the same familial and economic circumstances, they would likely have similar life outcomes. But the kind of parents who name their son Jake don’t tend to live in the same neighborhoods or share economic circumstances with the kind of parents who name their son DeShawn. And that’s why, on average, a boy named Jake will tend to earn more money and get more education than a boy named DeShawn. … DeShawn’s name is an indicator — but not a cause — of his life path.”

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