The Politics of Giving Your Child a Black Name

Jeneba Ghatt | 12/30/2011, 2:10 p.m.
The New York City Department of Health has revealed that the number one name Black...

The New York City Department of Health has revealed that the number one name Black parents applied to their baby girls was Madison, a name historically and traditionally given by White parents. By contrast, the number one boy name was Jayden, often considered a typical "Black name." The juxtaposition of the contrast is striking.

It is no hidden secret that many Blacks in America for decades have struggled with the decision of whether to name their children a traditional African or African American name. The decision is based on how much they want to give away the race of their children on paper - that paper being resumes or job applications. Before the child is even born, some parents are concerned that a uniquely Black name - like Jayden, Aisha, Ebony, Jamal, Clarence or Tanisha for example - would lessen the chances of that child being cleared for a job interview, should the person screening applicants have any race-based biases.

With a president named Barack Obama in office, we would hope that the days of name discrimination are long over. However, it is hard to know if the person shifting through resumes to select interview applicants will be able to put aside any stereotypes he or she may have and consider only the credentials of an applicant. No one wants his or her child to be cut off from a chance to prove him or herself and his or her qualifications during an interview out of the gate.

A while ago, I noticed a trend among many of my Black American friends in that they were giving their children names that were more traditionally associated with Caucasian children, including some of which were distinctly androgynous. In fact, during the years that I took my children to Gymboree classes from 2002 to 2008, I was taken aback by the number of Black and Brown Kennedys, Morgans, Briannas, Masons, Madisons, Jordans, Carters, Paytons, Baileys, Haileys, Montanas, Regans and Brandis I saw running around.

I wondered if the parents so named their children because they had familial significance, because those were just very pretty names or simply because they may have been more "resume" proof.

There is some science behind the "resume" proof phenomenon.

Roland G. Fryer Jr., a young Black economist who has analyzed the "acting White" phenomenon and the Black-White test score gap, is cited in Freakonomics: a Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen Dubner.

The book notes several audit studies where two identical (and fake) resumes, one with a traditionally White name and the other with an immigrant or minority-sounding name, are sent to potential employers. The "White" resumes have always gleaned more job interviews, and even in scenarios where the resume of a typical "Black" name was amplified and better, the White name resume still got more call backs.

How did certain names become more Black in the first place? Based on a longitudinal analysis of names Black and White California parents gave their children, Black children were given names like DeShawn, Terrell, Malik, Darryl, Tyrone and Jamal for boys and Jazmin, Tiara, Diamond, Deja, Imani, Ebony and Precious for girls. These names compared to the top girl names for White children: Molly, Amy, Claire, Emily, Emma and Holly for girls and Jake, Connor, Tanner, Cole, Luke, and Logan for boys.