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November 1, 2009 7:23 PM   Subscribe

Laura Wattenberg on Ledasha, Legends, and Race [Part Two | Part Three] "Why does it matter? We tell funny stories all the time without believing them. (Does anybody really think that a priest, a rabbi and a chicken walked into a bar?) I believe it matters in the case of urban legend names because they're not merely humor...and they're not random. They exist in a complex social setting, and they serve a subtle and consequential purpose. They are proxies for talking about race."
posted by ocherdraco (109 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've not heard of "Ledasha" until now, but shouldn't it be "Lehyphena"?
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 7:32 PM on November 1, 2009


Did you hear the one about the typography-loving hipsters?

They named their kids LeEmDasha and LeEnDasha.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:35 PM on November 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


Did you hear the one about the web developers?

They named their kid LeAmpersandPoundOneFiveOneSemicolona.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:36 PM on November 1, 2009 [8 favorites]


My favorite example of this ostrich approach is from the book "Freakonomics," in which the authors describe their purpose as applying disciplined, rigorous analysis to social questions. Yet they repeat as fact certain well-known urban legend names -- then explain in the footnotes that it must be true because a friend of theirs swears he once overheard the names in a grocery store

Yep, Freakanomics sucks. Again.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 7:40 PM on November 1, 2009 [7 favorites]


In the first post on Ledasha, I suggested that many familiar "urban legend" names serve as proxies for talking about race.

By "talking about," I presume you mean "making fun of."
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:52 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I know this wasn't the author's point, but I actually think we should encourage the pictographic imagination in names. For instance, the author of this very article could simply sign her last name by drawing something like "x+x," and we would have to guess at what was meant.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 7:57 PM on November 1, 2009


When my mother in law asked what we were going to call our child I said "Adrenalynn Ivy if it's a girl, and Neil Bymouth if it's a boy." "Ivy," she said, "that's a pretty name."
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:03 PM on November 1, 2009


ocherdraco, this is exactly the kind of racist crap I run up against at family gatherings; nice to have some sources to refer to when calling it out. The "Oranjello" story in particular I've heard often.

I feel so stupid that I didn't even think to look it up on Snopes; guess I had filed it under "racist crap" instead of thinking of it as an urban legend.
posted by emjaybee at 8:04 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


If I ever have a child, I intend to name it Qwzkly and tell people it's pronounced Pat. Nothing like burdening my offspring from the beginning.
posted by msbutah at 8:05 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Those people do have funny names. The Dutch, I mean. Bizarre.
posted by fleacircus at 8:13 PM on November 1, 2009


Jerome is a Jewish name, not a Black one.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:17 PM on November 1, 2009


and this is why I'm naming my first-born child Batman.
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:18 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Folks who don't want to be seen as racist can make Utah Mormon name jokes. Someone this decade told me a joke about Utah Pizza (sheltered LDS wife uses graham cracker crust, ketchup and Velveeta). I'm all for LOLXTIANS as much as the next guy, but c'mon, that's ludicrously ignorant in this day and age.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:22 PM on November 1, 2009


LOLWASP!
posted by Artw at 8:23 PM on November 1, 2009


Good article. It's easy to take this kind of thing for granted, especially when everyone knows some real life baby names nearly as tragic (Madisun, really?).
posted by smoke at 8:27 PM on November 1, 2009


You know, that was a pretty gutsy thing to publish on a baby-naming board, where I bet the Le-a/ Oranjello type stories get told pretty often. And honestly, the comments there are pretty heartening. I've seen a lot of people not react very well when someone pointed out that those name-related urban legends were proxies for race.
posted by craichead at 8:29 PM on November 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't make rascist assumptions when I hear names like La-a. But I do assume the parent was uneducated. I am sure in the USA it is clear these are names given to African American babies (and upon reflection, I could have worked that out), but when somebody told me about La-a I saw it as a humourous story without thinking the baby was black.
Here we have Kayden, Brayden, Aidan, Jay-Dan and Hayden to take the place holder for lower class naming (apologies to La-a and Ayden variations if you feel I am besmirching you).
posted by bystander at 8:30 PM on November 1, 2009


I hear Jerome used among my Irish relations, too. St Jerome is the patron of libraries.

The popularity of names as they ebb and flo is fascinating. Disparate people choose a name for their child for it's unique sound and wind up with their son being one of 7 Aiden's in a group of 30 boys. It would be wild to name a kid Nancy or Phil.

The racist name crap has been getting under my skin for a long time. I have heard that same urban legend with the name Placenta. You know it's bullshit but urban legends are so slippery. Those that repeat it don't believe they are doing any harm because it all seems so plausible. Yecchhh.
posted by readery at 9:04 PM on November 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm naming my kid after the great tennis player Bill ~n.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:17 PM on November 1, 2009 [8 favorites]


Cool post, ocherdraco; these essays are interesting and I love the Baby Name Blog even though I do not have, you know, an actual baby. Anyone who is interested in language and social/cultural trends should give it a read.

For those who haven't seen it, her Name Voyager tool is also really fun.
posted by lalex at 9:17 PM on November 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


i have a younger relative who swears that a friend of hers taught a kid named 'shithead' in a class. i haven't bothered calling it bs because, frankly, i can only take so much of being the grumpy cynical old lady in the family.

i did suggest to one pregnant relative that since car names were popular, perhaps they could name their child after my car, as "shitbox $LASTNAME" had a real ring to it... :)
posted by rmd1023 at 9:20 PM on November 1, 2009


You've never heard that one before, have you? I thought not, because I made it up. But if you heard it in a different context, I'll bet that you'd follow the social and linguistic cues that point to the family as upper middle-class white people. I chose the name Kegger not just for its meaning, but because it follows stylistic conventions of distinctly white names like Kyler, Bridger and Cooper.

Kyler? Bridger? I've seen links to that site around recently and there are obviously a lot of strange names going around these days.
posted by delmoi at 9:22 PM on November 1, 2009


White people am I right?

Seriously, though, my dad was in Quiznos and saw a woman with two rowdy kids scold them: "Monica! Chandler! Cut that out!" White woman in the midwest, half-dozen, maybe 10 years ago. Hand to god.
posted by paisley henosis at 9:23 PM on November 1, 2009 [6 favorites]


There was a variant on this theme I used to hear from people in high school. A mother in the maternity ward names her daughter "fuh-MAL-ay" because they wrote "female" on her daughter's wristband. All the hallmarks of race, all the passing-it-off-to-others-so-LOLBLACKS she describes in the post.

(godfuckingdammit I hated every last damned person in that fucking high school racist ass bottom-feeding blarghganrakjhsdfsdsdsdcsdfcdfsdcfsdwerqrtypoiawMORONSblarghswoiuskj...)
posted by el_lupino at 9:31 PM on November 1, 2009


All well and good in theory, except, there really ARE people with names like that.

My father taught in New Jersey, and once had a kid in class named "Asshole Brown" - pronounced "a-SHO-lee"

Something like that should be pretty easy to look up in public records - if anyone's interested, I can give him a call and see if we can look that up.
posted by BrianBoyko at 9:31 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


My father taught in New Jersey, and once had a kid in class named "Asshole Brown" - pronounced "a-SHO-lee"

Something like that should be pretty easy to look up in public records - if anyone's interested, I can give him a call and see if we can look that up.
Well don't try to google it. Trust me on that one.
posted by delmoi at 9:38 PM on November 1, 2009 [17 favorites]


Here's an interesting story. We chose 'Astrid' for our youngest girl. Had never met an Astrid and although I have Norwegian heritage, did not know of an Astrid in the family. We were only aware of Astrid Lindgren, of 'Pippy' fame. Our daughter was born in 2001. So now I go to the Name Voyager tool linked above and see that Astrid doesn't even show up from the 1920's to 2000, where there is a huge spike. What happened in 2000 that made a bunch of people suddenly consider Astrid a fitting name? It seems similar to the phenomenon of inventions being conceived of at the same moment in time by several individuals.

But even spookier than that, when a few years a go we went searching for the family homestead in Norway not even knowing if relatives still lived there, we came up to the door and on the ceramic plaque was the name 'Astrid {myfamilyname}'.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 9:48 PM on November 1, 2009


I don't actually believe there is a La-a, but I didn't believe there was a guy called Monsterville Horton the Fourth either. (the FOURTH!!!)
posted by bystander at 9:54 PM on November 1, 2009


A good friend of mine is a teacher at an elementary school in inner-city Miami and one of her students is named Strategic, which is just awesome.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 9:54 PM on November 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


Vivian Smith Smythe Smithe always made me chuckle (as upper class twit of the year).
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:06 PM on November 1, 2009


My father taught in New Jersey, and once had a kid in class named "Asshole Brown" - pronounced "a-SHO-lee"

Something like that should be pretty easy to look up in public records - if anyone's interested, I can give him a call and see if we can look that up.


I'm interested. I'll give $100 to the charity of your choice if you can show that such a person exists.

(Fine print: the name must be spelled "Asshole". Names of foreign origin that could conceivably be mispronounced "asshole" by a clueless English speaker don't count.)
posted by equalpants at 10:21 PM on November 1, 2009 [23 favorites]


Interesting reading, thanks.

I can't find anything online, but people must have written class analyses of Shirley Valentine and her musings on how "Clitoris" would make a nice name for a girl.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 10:55 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


My father taught in New Jersey, and once had a kid in class named "Asshole Brown" - pronounced "a-SHO-lee"

I've heard numerous people make this sort of claim and not one of them could back it up - same with Shi-thead.

If you think it through, the chance that a name like that could "get through the system" is zero.

I'd like you to sit down and come to terms with the fact that you father might have told you something that was not, in fact, true.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:58 PM on November 1, 2009 [16 favorites]


(Mei's lost sandal: One origin for Astrid's rise as a semi-popular American baby name this decade might be the movie Backbeat, which came out in 1994. It was a slight fictionalization of the Beatles' early-'60s origins and featured as a primary character Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe's German girlfriend and the photographer who took the Beatles' Hamburg portraits and supposedly gave them their shaggy haircuts. As portrayed in the movie, she was a smart, hip, and beautiful woman. This might not have influenced people who were seeking a baby name right then, but the name probably stuck in the back of the heads of people who went on to have kids in the following years.)
posted by lisa g at 11:01 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


"It's not me who can't spell your name, kid. It's your parents."
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:05 PM on November 1, 2009


My wife once named a D&D character "Shithead." She was a half-orc fighter who was raised by orcs rather than humans, and thus had a bit of a problem integrating into Lawful Good society.

That was the campaign where we accidentally sent our other fighter to Heaven (or at least the Neutral Good home plane) and had to mount an assault on the Pearly Gates to get him back. It was way more interesting than the canned dungeon crawl we had been in the middle of. Mind you, because we weren't there, drow apparently overran the entire country, but hey, who doesn't like a little dystopia every now and then?
posted by Scattercat at 11:27 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the links. I've found myself enthralled by Ms. Wattenberg's writing. It is unusual to find any writer so devoted to the details of a subject without betraying any judgment. I never knew there was so much that was interesting about baby naming :)
posted by nathan v at 12:13 AM on November 2, 2009


Friends in college who tutored kids in Chicago claimed to have met kids named Aquanetta and "Portia" spelled like the car - Porsche.

Then there's this, which I've only heard told as a joke, not as a allegedly true story:

"Next patient is...Liam Brown. Liam? Is Liam here?"

"It's pronounced 'Yum'. It's short for William."
posted by straight at 1:36 AM on November 2, 2009


Oh, this makes me long for the morning I get the 4, 60 name long roles for freshman classes each semester. There have been students that, after several weeks of me butchering their name, and they butchering mine, we come to terms, and I say "You there!" and they say "hey teach!"
posted by strixus at 3:13 AM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here we have Kayden, Brayden, Aidan, Jay-Dan and Hayden to take the place holder for lower class naming (apologies to La-a and Ayden variations if you feel I am besmirching you).

AFAIK, Aidan is an old Celtic name (I believe there is a St. Aidan in the Church of England). Though I have noticed a pattern of taking an established name and swapping out the first consonant to make it "unique", i.e., making "Kevin" into "Mevin", "Nevin", "Devin" and such. (This is common in the birth announcement sections of Australian suburban newspapers.)
posted by acb at 3:27 AM on November 2, 2009


I swear on my life: I once encountered a cashier at Best Buy whose name, according to her name tag, was Toshiba.

My mother also claims to have gone to school with a Robin Hood (female), and my father once knew a Donald Duckworth.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:29 AM on November 2, 2009


There was a bagger at QFC on Capitol Hill whose name tag read To. I tried to be cagy and asked her what her ethnic derivation was and she said English, so I asked her if that was a family name.

She just looked at me and said, My last name is Morrow.

Now, I don't know if she was putting me on but that is what her name tag read and that is what she told me. I was too stunned at the time to come back with something snappy. I just shook my head and 'Oh...'

People should have to get licensed to name children just as they should to have them at all--let alone be allowed to keep a cat or dog. If you have to get a license to drive a car, why not for all the above mentioned as well ?
posted by y2karl at 4:17 AM on November 2, 2009


To add a little data to the conversation, I ran a bunch of the names mentioned in this thread into the Social Security Death Index. Zero hits obviously doesn't rule out a name since the index doesn't include living people, but some of the odder names nonetheless do appear:

Le-a: 0
Oranjello: 0
Madisun: 1
Placenta: 0
Shithead: 0
Kegger: 0
Kyler: 95
Bridger: 22
Female: 2
Asshole: 0
Strategic: 0
Clitoris: 0
Porsche: 3
Toshiba: 3
Robin Hood: 27
Donald Duckworth: 21
posted by The Tensor at 4:17 AM on November 2, 2009 [11 favorites]


When my brother was in elementary school, there was a girl in his class whose parents, Herman and Cassandra, had saddled her with the name...

*drumroll*








Hermandra.
posted by Rhaomi at 4:21 AM on November 2, 2009


Of the two "Female" names, one appears to be a child who died at or near birth (both dates are the same), so presumably didn't get named.

The three "Toshiba" names were all given right around the mid-70's, but in three different states. what's up with that?
posted by rmd1023 at 4:27 AM on November 2, 2009


My family (but especially my father) went into convulsions when my baby brother had his son. He wanted a strong name that the kid could also have some fun with as he grew up, so he named him Bacchus Franklin. My father, who never uttered a word race-wise as we grew up had fits. He kept calling family members and telling them to sit down, "Because you won't believe what Bobby did to his son!" followed by some of the most racist mess you will have ever heard. But it was funny, because he still can't bring himself to be an outright racist: "Maybe he wishes we had oatmeal (that is his way of saying non-white) in our blood, but THIS! WHO DOES HE THINK WE ARE?!?"

Of course, he kept petitioning my brother and his wife to change it until I got out the family history and gave Bobby a list of alternative family names. It stayed Bacchus when Bobby presented the alternatives to Dad: Jerome, Tyrone, Tryon, Blasius, Cornelius, and Lester.

When Dad called me, I said that I liked it, and jokingly said that if I ever had twin boys I would name them Hypnos and Thanatos. The reference was lost on him and he snapped "I hate that too!! Sounds Spanish!"
posted by Tchad at 4:44 AM on November 2, 2009 [9 favorites]


Aquanetta Biggs was a teller at Bay State Federal Savings and Loan in Coolidge Corner back in the 80s. I saw her nameplate with my own eyes. (Hi, 'Netta!)
posted by whuppy at 4:57 AM on November 2, 2009


My father taught in New Jersey, and once had a kid in class named "Asshole Brown" - pronounced "a-SHO-lee"

What a coincidence that his last name makes it an even funnier story.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:59 AM on November 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


straight, Liam is an Irish variant on William. Closer to it than Bill, if you think about it.
posted by whuppy at 5:00 AM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


There was this Hispanic fireman, and he and his wife had twins. Named 'em Jose and Hose B. This was also in New Jersey, and my fiend's aunt's hairdresser swears it's true.
posted by fixedgear at 5:25 AM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Straight: I have absolutely met a lady named "Aquanetta." Or at least, that is what her name tag said. This was in a grocery store in Picayune, Mississippi. I commented that she must get some kidding about her name, and she looked puzzled and said, "No...Why?"
posted by thebrokedown at 5:36 AM on November 2, 2009


There was a story in the free newspapers in the UK a few years ago with an unusual baby names theme. One of the things it claimed is that 100 babies were christened Snoop in that year. (Presumably born to hip-hop fans.)
posted by acb at 5:39 AM on November 2, 2009


You guys, I hate to break it to you, but nametags aren't legal documents. Turns out you can put whatever you want on them.
posted by sugarfish at 6:14 AM on November 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


There was a B-movie star in the 1940s named Acquanetta (or who named herself Acquanetta, reports differ). Incidentally, she starred in some ridiculously racist movies.
posted by Kattullus at 6:15 AM on November 2, 2009


How long has Aqua Net hairspray been around? I always associate it with the 80s. Maybe the product is a play on a name.
posted by palliser at 6:25 AM on November 2, 2009


First teaching job was a gig in New York teaching summer school for kids who didn't pass the standardized test at the end of the year. I had a girl in there whose first name was Mefail. She told me got tons of jokes about her name, because classmates didn't really care that it was a foreign name or how it was pronounced. Kids just think it's funny when your name is Mefail and you end up going to summer school.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:26 AM on November 2, 2009


AFAIK, Aidan is an old Celtic name

It's a common Irish name, I know a number of Aidans in their thirties, but for babies nowhere near as inexplicably popular as in the US where I read if you add up all the weird spellings it's the biggest baby name by far. We're not taking responsibility for the Caydens and Jadens though.

I like and subscribe to that blog, like others above I have no babies nor plans for any but it's so very interesting.
posted by jamesonandwater at 6:28 AM on November 2, 2009


When I was in grade school my best friend was a girl named Krishna. Her parents were NOT Hindi, nor were they hippies. They just saw the name in a magazine article and liked it (Up until that point they had been considering "Dulcinea"). Krishna's brother is named Theoden -- yes, after the King of Rohan. Krishna has her own two kids now: Daedelus and Portia.

About 10 years ago now I went to a Halloween party hosted by a guy whose full name was Cantad Hoopachu Svensgaard. When asked about his name, he just shrugged and said "My parents were hippies. Each of them blames the other one." His friends called him "Hoopy."

My paternal grandfather was named "Revilo Oliver." Why "Revilo"? ...Because it's "Oliver" spelled backwards. My grandfather HATED IT, and went by his initials unless he had to sign something legally-binding (he was Grandpa 'Row'). I was ten before I learned his actual name.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:29 AM on November 2, 2009


Empress: the same Revilo Oliver?
posted by jtron at 6:34 AM on November 2, 2009


Nope -- "Oliver' was the middle name in Grandpa's instance (Hence the "w" in "Grandpa Row"). I did do quite a take when I found that wikipedia link a year back ("holy crap, someone ELSE'S parents had that idea?").

I realize that I didn't conclude my point/tie it back to the thrust of the post: freaky names sometimes know no boundary of race, class, nationality, or taste. Sometimes they're just the whim of parents.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:42 AM on November 2, 2009


I left the hospital with a identifying wristband that just said "GIRL GOLDSTEIN."* My parents hadn't decided on a name and took two weeks to choose a name that they thought fit my personality. Please feel free to turn this into an urban legend. ("Swear to god, her name was GIRL GOLDSTEIN, allcaps and everything!")

*Goldstein being my mom's last name, but not the one I ended up with.
posted by piratebowling at 6:42 AM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


One of the things I find very curious about the phenomenon of "baby name" books, blogs, and messageboards is that very title. Why is the focus on "baby names" when, in fact, the subject is just names and naming in general? A couple folks upthread have said that they read Wattenberg's blog, but feel the need to mention that they themselves do not have babies. Why is it the expectation that to have an interest in names and naming, one must have or be expecting a child?

I wonder if the focus on "baby names" and "baby naming" has any effect on the nature of names being given. Are children whose parents frequent baby naming boards more likely to give infantile or childish sounding names than those who haven't surrounded themselves with the concept of "baby naming"? Is that even measurable? After all, the perception of names—particularly faddish ones—changes over time as the cohort given a particular name ages.

I also find it interesting that several folks appear not to have read the links, and have commented in the thread to repeat stories that Wattenberg addresses.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:47 AM on November 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


Hello; my name's Smoketoomuch.
posted by e.e. coli at 7:28 AM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Better cut down then.
posted by fixedgear at 7:34 AM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I work at a children's hospital and have encountered quite a few folks who say they have taken care of a La-a, but I've not personally encountered her. I have, however, personally taken care of Yuerhy'niz (pronounced "your highness") and Latrine.

Here is a partial list of the current census in the hospital right now:

Xori
Jhoan
Jhakila
November (born in October)
Magnely
Sedricka
Bayleigh
Shavonte
Zayland
Lewauna
Jacoreya
Sol
Massiah
Heaven
Hope
Miracle (x3)
Marleny
Mykiareya (i prefer to read as three words)
Kamoree
Beanneka
Keikola
Yanet
Tayshyreion-Malayasia [sic]
Zepora
Kadarious
Lafabian
Sharnieces
Draeshon
Ameria
Mhlaja
J'juan
Lashedrick
Jovani
Tyrique
Shantinea
London-Rhianna
SanJuanita (yes!)
Lady-K
Adreyuanna
Aamiyah
Aboreonia
Angelynn
Lameaterria
Boulutife
Ronkeith

*sigh*
posted by robstercraw at 7:52 AM on November 2, 2009 [8 favorites]


Just popping in to say that I, too, agree that if my parents or friends pass on an urban legend it should subsequently be uncritically reported as fact, and that names that have currency in subcultures other than my own should be collected and roundly mocked.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:15 AM on November 2, 2009 [9 favorites]


One of my great uncles is named Lax. He is still living. And I've brought it up before, but seriously, the Puritans really took the cake when it came to baby names. See: Unless-Jesus-Christ-Had-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barebone
posted by thivaia at 8:30 AM on November 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is fantastic. Thank you for posting this. As I am currently seeking baby names... sorry, person names... this is very useful.

I don't have much to add. Sometimes names are funny. (I heard a story about a girl named My'u'nique. I guess I do have something to add!) It's much easier to find lists of bad names than it is to find lists of good names.

What stinks is it seems like it's trendy to have "unique" names now. And that's going to lead to classrooms full of kids named Jayden.
posted by bDiddy at 8:32 AM on November 2, 2009


seriously, the Puritans really took the cake when it came to baby names.

Ooh, that's right! I read that they tried to name their kids after certain virtues they hoped their children would adopt.

....Which is why I was very amused to learn that one of my Puritan-era ancestors was named "Freelove."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:42 AM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pater Aletheias, you summed up precisely what was making me wince about this thread and with more pith than I could have summoned.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:59 AM on November 2, 2009


Just popping in to say that I, too, agree that if my parents or friends pass on an urban legend it should subsequently be uncritically reported as fact, and that names that have currency in subcultures other than my own should be collected and roundly mocked.

For my own part: I confined myself to names I knew actually existed, and which belonged to people who were NOT in any group I believed to be a "subculture" (like, oh, my GRANDFATHER). My point -- which I may have been a bit too oblique in stating -- was that "weird names" are an across-the-board thing, and are not the sole perview of one or another "subculture".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:05 AM on November 2, 2009


robstercraw*: I'd take imaginative names like those over the endless Jennifers, Brians, Kevins, Sarahs etc that populate my age cohort

*wow - epony-something? I hope not
posted by jtron at 9:05 AM on November 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


There was a working the cash register at the Jack-in-the-Box named Norman Conquest, I swear to god. It was on his name tag and everything!

Yes, that guy was me. No, that's not my name. Don't believe everything everything you read on a name tag.
posted by lekvar at 9:08 AM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


What happened in 2000 that made a bunch of people suddenly consider Astrid a fitting name?

Astrid was the main character in White Oleander, which was published in 1999 and was an Oprah pick. I'm sure it had at least a small affect on baby names in following years.
posted by peep at 9:27 AM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


effect.
posted by peep at 9:27 AM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


There was a working the cash register at the Jack-in-the-Box named Norman Conquest

That's pretty awesome, but it would be even better if you charged everybody $10.66.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:03 AM on November 2, 2009 [12 favorites]


Great link, thanks for posting it.
posted by languagehat at 10:34 AM on November 2, 2009


The "Kegger" example in the article really rings true -- though everybody knows someone with a slightly foolish name and has thought how stupid the parents must have been, there is an undeniably strong racist element to these urban myths.
posted by patricio at 10:41 AM on November 2, 2009


That's pretty awesome, but it would be even better if you charged everybody $10.66.

Or instead of a receipt he offered a tapestry of your purchase.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 10:48 AM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Friends of mine dithered on naming their child because every combination they could come up with had unfortunate initials. The hospital finally told them that if they didn't provide a name, then one was going to be taken from a round robin list, and that would be the child's legal name until they went through the legal process of changing it. So they settled on Aiden, and his initials are now ASS. Hasn't seemed to hurt him.

There are stories here of people whose legal name is "Baby Boy" or "Baby Girl" because that was what was on the birth certificate. Of course, the protagonists are, as in the Le-a story, members of the underclass. I did have a kid on my paper route, many many years ago, who was universally referred to as Boy, and his sister was Girl. Don't know if that was legal, though.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:56 AM on November 2, 2009


Empress Callipygos, I'm pretty sure that neither Pater Aleitheias nor I were talking about your contributions (which discussed a very interesting real life example of a strange name), but rather the folks who are like "No, but for reals, my aunt/cousin/father/neighbor totally taught/met/worked with a guy named Lemonjello," and perpetuating exactly the same urban legends talked about in the links.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:00 AM on November 2, 2009


*shrug* That's fair; the read I was getting was that people are mostly coming up with things they had actually witnessed first-hand rather than the sister's-friend's-mother's-hairdresser's-cousin's-neighbor's-babysitter kind of connection, but that could be a point that's open to interpretation.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:08 AM on November 2, 2009


Couple points: regarding the all-inclusiveness of weird names, my mother named me "Christian" (in vain hope) just to go against the sea of Christophers.

My neighbor's kids are Faith, Hope and...Mark (I always want to call the little guy "Charlie").

I once substitute taught in a classroom that had the student Precious Johnson. As I was reading off the roll, I did a double take, and she blurted out with an eyeroll that could shatter glass, "No, that's not anything like a fuckin' typo."
posted by notsnot at 11:13 AM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


As lisa g and peep pointed out, mass media can influence naming trends. The baby-naming experts often blame soap operas for odd trends in the 1970s, but these days, prime time television is probably a bigger influencer -- "Willow" and "Xander" both jumped in popularity when "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was airing in the late 1990s, but have already starting declining.

If you want a different kind of racist stereotype, I'd said it was young white mothers who most influenced by television, but that may just be because there aren't that many black characters in prime time TV.

And now, my classist-but-not-racist anecdote. Everyone in this story is caucasian and suburban:

This summer, I'm at a party held by a high school friend I hadn't seen in about 20 years. (Facebook, you know?) She's the only person there I know (the other guests are her post-school friends), and I'm talking to her, while half-listening to some friends of her discuss their tattoos.

One woman mentions that her husband wants a new tattoo, but doesn't know what to get. A tattooed gentlemen suggests something he things is "cool" -- "He should get a tattoo of your kids names, in Japanese characters." The woman's response?

"He would do that, but there's no Japanese characters for 'Legolas."

I told my friend "Hold on a minute," and turned to Legolas's mom to ask "I'm sorry, I may have misheard you. Did you just say say one of your kids is named 'Legolas?"

It turns out her infant son is, in fact, named "Legolas." As she helpfully explalined, "It's a real name! It's from Lord of the Rings!"

I respond, "You know, when he reaches third grade, everybody is going to call him "Lego Ass," right?" As it turned, out Baby Legolas's mother had not thougth that far ahead, and did not appreciate me thinking that far ahead for her.

(I also tried pointing that Lord of the Rings has probably been translated to Japanese, so there might be an accepted kanji transliteration, but she wasn't really listening to me at that point.)

My high school friend has not invited me to any more parties. Tattooed suburbanites, am I right?
posted by faster than a speeding bulette at 12:02 PM on November 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


Oh why would you not have suggested writing Legolas in elvish as a tattoo? If you're going to give your kid an nerd name, have the nuts to get a nerd tattoo.

(The second character looks like an ass.)
posted by bDiddy at 12:13 PM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


straight, Liam is an Irish variant on William. Closer to it than Bill, if you think about it.
Oh, sure. But do they pronounce it "yum" as if you took both 'l's when you take off the first syllable? That's the allegedly funny part.
posted by straight at 1:29 PM on November 2, 2009


funny names you say? we have a couple of premier league footballers: nwankwo kanu and danny shittu. lolfootballers.


also, anyone who says "the dash don't be silent" needs to go back to school.
posted by marienbad at 1:57 PM on November 2, 2009


haha = forgot this: linked from the article. it made me laugh anyway

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtbEiF6Uv2Q&feature=PlayList&p=C81ADA237FE096B3&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=12#t=52s
posted by marienbad at 1:59 PM on November 2, 2009


also, anyone who says "the dash don't be silent" needs to go back to school. (marienbad)

Though it isn't standard for written American English, habitual be is standard in other dialects of English including African American Vernacular English, which is its context here.

Its use does not imply lack of schooling.
posted by ocherdraco at 2:11 PM on November 2, 2009 [9 favorites]


I named my son after my mother's brother and my father. Vincent Dominick. Yeah, that's right. VD. Italians, amirite?
posted by Splunge at 2:47 PM on November 2, 2009


ocherdraco, well done, writing a much more measured response than I would have been able to.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 3:46 PM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


measured response!

so "dont be" is how educated people talk in america then? right.

and in essence, then, the urban myth is as reliant on the use of AAVE to symbolise race in the story, as it is the daft Le-a name? so is it the name or the language which carries most weight?

tbh this sort of stupid naming goes on worldwide, there have been incidents in denmark (poss sweden?) and new zealand recently with kids with stupid names. someone wanted to use a number in the kids name.
posted by marienbad at 4:40 PM on November 2, 2009


Was it Jennifer 8 Lee?
posted by fixedgear at 4:43 PM on November 2, 2009


so "dont be" is how educated people talk in america then? right.

Don't be a jerk. People with educations are free to talk however they please.
posted by 23skidoo at 4:53 PM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Get off the "habitual be", marienbad. It's not like it's super annoying, like typing without any regard for capitalization.
posted by piratebowling at 5:24 PM on November 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


Previously... a news story about a woman actually named Marijuana Pepsi, and the old "winner" and "loser" baby naming story...
posted by Maias at 6:41 PM on November 2, 2009


and in essence, then, the urban myth is as reliant on the use of AAVE to symbolise race in the story, as it is the daft Le-a name? so is it the name or the language which carries most weight? (marienbad)

The dialect is used to identify the group being made fun of. The name is the premise under which the making fun of is possible. You're right that it's a relevant part of the joke—and I'm sure that people who tell these sorts of jokes regard the dialect they use in the joke as bad English.

To your point about "how educated people talk in america": in a general sense, most people who have post-secondary educations probably do not use habitual be, even if the dialect they grew up with uses it. However, it does not then follow that people who use habitual be are not educated.

This is mostly an aside: The post-secondary educational environment is one where an individual's use of language (one's idiolect) is regarded in a very critical way (which can often seem incongruous to linguists in these environments, as we spend our time studying how people actually speak, rather than how people ought to speak). Students coming to a campus from many different places across a country and across the world are greeted with an environment in which there is a specific, expected way to speak, and are corrected, made fun of, and cajoled into speaking that way. Some of this influence is subtle, and some of it is outright. For example: my idiolect, when I arrived at college in the Northeast, was very Southern. In Southern American English, there is a construction called a double modal (i.e. "I might should" or "I used to could"). The first time I used "might could" in a class conversation (like habitual be, double modals are mostly conversational, and rarely appear in writing), I was roundly mocked, despite the fact that "I might could do that" and "I could do that" carry different meanings. Other aspects of my non-standard idiolect also dwindled over time under the pressure of my surroundings.

It might be helpful to frame language in different terms in this context: much like in business, in language there are things that are regarded as "best practices." In language, "best practices" are those in which you will be understood by the largest number of people. When speaking American English, you will be understood by the largest number of people when you speak (and write) Standard American English. But, in business, as in language, not everyone follows best practices. And those who don't follow best practices aren't necessarily wrong—perhaps they have different goals. Perhaps speakers have goals other than being understood by the largest number of people; perhaps their goals are, rather, to be understood by a particular group of people, or to strengthen their identity within a particular group. In that instance, general best practices (speaking Standard American English) won't provide the desired result.

Those best practices are regarded as such because they are best for the majority of people (and for some people can also accomplish other goals like strengthening their identity within a group), but what is best for the majority is not best for everyone.

tbh this sort of stupid naming goes on worldwide, there have been incidents in denmark (poss sweden?) and new zealand recently with kids with stupid names. (marienbad)

Of course it does. People all over the place name their kids weird things. And people love hearing about it. The crux of the jokes at the center of this particular article, though, is not just "people name their kids weird things," but "oh my god, can you believe how stupid X group of people is? Why, look at this! They named their kid Le-a! How ignorant can you be!", which ridicule is based only on racial cues and an entirely false story.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:03 PM on November 2, 2009 [14 favorites]


[mocked for] "I might could do that"

Especially ironic since "I might be able to do that" is entirely acceptable, and "could" is essentially the same as "am able to."

But being trained in the elite idiolect is part of the function of higher education. Or maybe the main function...
posted by Jimmy Havok at 7:19 PM on November 2, 2009


Also: I fully appreciate the irony of using mah big fat post-secondary vocabulary all up in that comment.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:32 PM on November 2, 2009


Empress Callipygos, I'm pretty sure that neither Pater Aleitheias nor I were talking about your contributions (which discussed a very interesting real life example of a strange name), but rather the folks who are like "No, but for reals, my aunt/cousin/father/neighbor totally taught/met/worked with a guy named Lemonjello," and perpetuating exactly the same urban legends talked about in the links.

Exactly right. My allegiance to the dear Empress knows no bounds.

I am somewhat aghast at the number of people who--in response to a blog post rightly acknowledging the racism underlying apocryphal tales like "Le-a"--will themselves pass on similarly racist stories, apparently without realizing that implications of the original post.

I'll admit that I don't have a lot of patience for racist urban legends or for folks who roll their eyes at names that are typically given to black children and not white. The reason that there are some pretty striking differences between black and white culture, including what names are popular, is because we have been segregated from each other by things like slavery, lynchings, Jim Crow laws, institutional racism, and, well, segregation. For the majority culture to do that for 300 years and then pass around stories about how silly those black people's names are strikes me as not just offensive, but a pretty obvious attempt to continue playing "look how inferior those people are to us."

There is no objective reason why names like:

Zepora
Kadarious
Lafabian
Sharnieces
Draeshon
Ameria
Mhlaja
J'juan
Lashedrick
Jovani
Tyrique
Shantinea
London-Rhianna

are silly or sigh-worthy. They aren't any harder to pronounce or spelled more oddly than plenty of "white" names. It's not hard to imagine an alternate reality where the majority black culture passed around emails mocking Anglo names.

Sean--they pronounce it to rhyme with "on" instead of bean! WTF?
Leigh--they say "lee," not "Lige." Huh? And they use it everywhere--Ashleigh, Kimberly, Hayleigh. Gimme a break!
And then they keep giving last names to their babies: MacKenzie, Carter, Brody, Cameron, Campbell...and on and on. When I see "MacKenzie Cameron" on a file, how do I know which name is which? Or whether it's a man or a woman?
Don't even get me started on how many ways they spell Mikayla/Michaela/Makaila/McKayla. Just pick one already!

Look at it that way and it makes me long for an easily pronounceable Zepora, Jovani or Tyrique.

I'm really more than a little surprised that a thread like this would so quickly turn in a direction that perpetuates casual racism.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:19 AM on November 3, 2009 [76 favorites]


A fair point, Pater, but I'm also seeing equal yucks directed at "Madison" and "Astrid" and "Xander" and "Legolas" in this thread. Not denying that there AREN'T people who are indulging in the "lolweird urban names" thing, but I'm seeing more isolated examples as opposed to it taking over the thread and running rampant.

Although, I am a little disappointed that tangent on Purtain naming practices got dropped so quick. (Come on! One of my ancestors is actually named "Freelove"! Isn't that crazy, people?....)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:33 AM on November 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


> The first time I used "might could" in a class conversation (like habitual be, double modals are mostly conversational, and rarely appear in writing), I was roundly mocked, despite the fact that "I might could do that" and "I could do that" carry different meanings. Other aspects of my non-standard idiolect also dwindled over time under the pressure of my surroundings.

This is exactly the kind of thing that makes me mad and keeps me harping on the necessity of understanding the descriptive attitude toward language and the oppressiveness of thoughtless prescriptivism (i.e., enforcement of pointless "norms").
posted by languagehat at 8:00 AM on November 3, 2009 [7 favorites]


Zepora

*sigh*
posted by robstercraw at 10:52 AM on November 2 [3 favorites has favorites +] [!]


Zipporah was Moses' wife.
posted by workerant at 12:41 PM on November 3, 2009


I swear on my life: I once encountered a cashier at Best Buy whose name, according to her name tag, was Toshiba.

I believe you, Faint of Butt. One of my 2005 ALA Spectrum cohorts was named Toshiba. I don't know whether she ever worked at a Best Buy, though.

Also, I can't believe that one or the other of my parents hasn't yet sent me the forward about little Le-a (we're black, and they love to send me forwards like that).
posted by LiliaNic at 1:12 PM on November 3, 2009


You guys, I hate to break it to you, but nametags aren't legal documents. Turns out you can put whatever you want on them.

Indeed; many years ago at a Halloween store in the Village, my nametag read Polly Vinylchloride. When anybody asked about it, I would say "VEEN-eel-chlor-ee-DAY. It's French."
posted by jocelmeow at 5:03 PM on November 3, 2009 [4 favorites]


LiliaNic, when your parents send jokes like that, do you think it's self-deprecating or is it still "look at those other people who are different than we are"? I'm curious about how the context changes with who's telling the joke.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:44 PM on November 3, 2009


ocherdraco, my parents would not recognize anything of themselves in this joke (no do I), so there would be no self-deprecation involved. They would send it to me as a way of asking, "What the hell is wrong with people?" regarding the joke itself. My mom is the first to roll her eyes when she hears a name that screams "ghetto" or sounds to her like random syllables just thrown together, but this story just sounds ridiculous, and I doubt she'd believe it without some sort of supporting evidence.

I do think it sucks, but it seems to me that there's less leeway for blacks and other historically disadvantaged minorities to name their children, without having those names telegraph things (like poverty, or ignorance) which may well not be true.
posted by LiliaNic at 9:46 AM on November 4, 2009


There is no objective reason why names like [...] are silly or sigh-worthy.

Sure there is. Whether you agree with society or not, you still have to live with them. If a larger-than-average number of people think your name is silly, stupid, or poor-sounding, your fancy logic falls flat. There is an automatic perception that you now have to exert effort to explain or disprove. That same effort is not required in children with "normal" names. Which means they automatically have an advantage. Right or wrong, logical or insane, this is simply a fact of living in any society. So the argument against is fairly simple: do you want to saddle your child with a social disadvantage from birth, or do you care enough for your child's future that you would spare them the trouble?

Or is it just so important to you that you prove your stupid little point?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:28 PM on November 7, 2009


There is an automatic perception that you now have to exert effort to explain or disprove. That same effort is not required in children with "normal" names. Which means they automatically have an advantage.

You think? Maybe it's more like "A Boy Named Sue," where the necessity of explaining the name toughens you up for the other battles of life. My given name is straight out of pop culture, and while I felt like I suffered for it when I was young, I now feel like dealing with it toughened me up so that today I am less likely to be concerned about how will others react, and more likely to be concerned about right and wrong.

A glance at this list of business leaders of the last century shows a high proportion of atypical names. You'd think there'd be a lot more Johns and Marys there, if the selection was either random or favored normality over uniqueness.

On the other hand, research does show that stereotypical African-American names do get worse reviews on resumes, so perhaps it's not the best idea to give your child a name with punctuation in it. There's also some research that shows that those with names that start with "c" and "d" get worse grades.

Maybe the best idea is to name your child with an English surname starting with "a" or "b," so everyone will assume they were born to rule.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:17 PM on November 7, 2009


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