One Mother Considers Racial Connotations of Naming Her Child

Friday, September 20, 2013

A woman late in her pregnancy. (Shutterstock)

It’s O.K. to admit it—you’ve probably Googled your name before. But when you type your name into the search box, what do you find? Maybe a handsome photo of someone who shares your name, or perhaps a mug shot?

What’s in a name? A lot in some cases—especially in the virtual world. We tend to make a host of assumptions about certain names—about race and many other identity markers—that also appear in online search results.

A study released in February by Harvard Professor Latanya Sweeney found that searching for so-called “black-sounding” names resulted in text suggesting an arrest record.

That association troubles one expectant mother. Nikisia Drayton has shared her struggle to choose an appropriate name for her unborn child in our partner The New York Times.

Nikisia's husband wanted name their unborn son Keion, despite family members and friends saying it was "too ethnic." Nikisia decided to do the "Google test," which produced images of mug shots when she searched Keion. When entered the name into Google with a different spelling (Kian), she said she saw smiling white people in the results.

She says that black names are a disadvantage online.

“My unborn son, a seven-month old fetus, could have all the world’s unspoken markings of a criminal—the wrong skin color and the wrong name," she writes in the Times. 

She joins The Takeaway to discuss the potential criminalization of names in the digital age.

Guests:

Nikisha Drayton

Produced by:

Tyler Adams

Comments [20]

Elsie Grover from Oregon

My parents named me after my maternal and paternal grandmothers. Elsie and Fransiska. I was a second born daughter, the story I heard all my life was that they didn't have the nerve to name their first daughter "Elsie" and felt they'd saddled me with a name fit for a cow (Elsie, Borden's cow). I was nicknamed "Frani" and most people still know me as Frani. But I have always loved Elsie and it is the name my husband prefers to call me which makes it even more precious. In just the last couple of years I've noticed parents are choosing to name their children "Elsie" again but when I was young the only Elsies I knew of were at least a generation ahead of me.

Sep. 23 2013 02:53 PM
Naida from Portland

My name "Naida" is pronounced "NAY-duh" (rhymes with potato or tomato when you change the last "o" to an "a.") I was named after a a little girl my mother babysat as a teenager. I was always called "Naida Potata" or "Naida Tomata" all through school, which were endearing terms for me. I drove a school bus for many years, and we always had fun making rhyming names for each other. It wasn't until age 50, when I went to Grad school and had a Swedish Prof who refused to say my name that I discovered that in Finland, my name "Naida" means "f**k." And to top it off, in Finnish, the word for "you" is "te" (pronounced "tay"). So when I told the professor my nickname is "Naida Potata," he seemed to hear "Naida Te." He never developed a sense of humor about it. I thought it was hilarious!

Sep. 23 2013 12:42 PM
Ben Madden from Seattle, WA

Regardless of race it's hard to bet against apostle names when it comes to pre-first impressions. Excepting Judas, of course.

Sep. 22 2013 11:46 PM
Lisa from Portland

The name I always wonder about is "Newt". I mean, what parent names their child something that conjures up images of either a rather slimy amphibian or the act of neutering? Though both seemed appropriate as applied to the most famous recent public figure bearing that name...

Sep. 20 2013 06:00 PM
Pat from Harlem

Her name makes me think her parents are Jamaican. There was definitely a 'Nikisha' phase in Jamaican baby names. She sounds like one as well.

Sep. 20 2013 03:27 PM
Wendy W from Central Jersey

I was born just after Peter Pan opened on Broadway and since I have a very common last name, my parents wanted a less common first name. They thought Wendy from Peter Pan was just perfect.

Sep. 20 2013 03:21 PM
Angela Kubinec

Fuva-
Your response assumes I did nothing. Could it have something to do with my name?

Sep. 20 2013 02:51 PM
Massoud


Kian is a common Persian name.. it means the King.. see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kian

Sep. 20 2013 02:42 PM
Patricia

As someone in academia who looks at applications for scholarships, I have to say that, given a good GPA, letters, statement of purpose, etc., it's kind of a plus to see a name that indicates a candidate is likely of African-American heritage. Getting that diversity thing going, don't you know. Granted, that's a long time to wait...

Sep. 20 2013 02:35 PM
RAOUL ORNELAS from BEND, OREGON

The beauty of the this topic is this: Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, John Bohener, Eric Cantor, Rush Limbaug, Bill O'Riely and all Texans, have their roots in the Olduvai Gorge of Africa about 1.2 million years ago. Read: Spencer Wells (one of many books on the subject) The Journey Of Man.

Sep. 20 2013 01:22 PM
Joe from Dallas, TX

As a black man,I was quite offended by the discussion. She gives the impression that the name given the child predicts the child's future. She forgot one key thing, it is called teaching your child right from wrong.

This woman has every right to choose the name for her child, but based on whether it sounded black or not seems to be internalized racism. If you don't like the name, don't name your child that.

I am sure that if she chose to look closer, she'd find quite a few mug shots for almost every common name.

Sep. 20 2013 12:46 PM
Ulysses from Portland

My middle name is Ulysses and I go by it in real life. My first name is Jacob. I am currently applying for jobs online while listening to the show. I've noticed that if my resume says Ulysses I get no response but if it says Jacob, I hear back. Same. Exact. Resume. Same exact person. Different names at the top.

Sep. 20 2013 12:40 PM
TD

From reading these comments, it is obvious that some NPR listeners would rather be offended than receptive of other people's struggles and stories. Furthermore, it is also obvious that some make judgements before actually READING what this young woman had to say in the article that was obviously so poignant that it was featured in the New York Times.

@SJ from Brooklyn- had you taken the time to do so, perhaps you would've seen she googled "Keion name".

Nothing about a quest to name your child something that would not be associated with mug shots in a google search seems self hating to me.

Sep. 20 2013 12:20 PM
fuva from harlemworld

LOL. SJ, she probably didn't turn off search result personalization...

OK, I'm through...

Sep. 20 2013 11:00 AM
fuva from harlemworld

But Angela, the mother did not mention pronunciation difficulty as a rationale. Of course, easily-pronounced non-slave names abound.

Furthermore, the productive response to teachers who will actually not call on children because of their names is NOT to accommodate the ignorance of teachers. Really. We must move FORWARD...

Sep. 20 2013 10:55 AM
SJ from Brooklyn, NY

What on earth are you talking about? I did the Google image search myself for "Keion". It brought up pages and pages of anime and some basketball shots, apparently a famous basketball player has that name? I saw no mugshots! Some smiling black people, some football. Look for yourself -->

https://www.google.com/search?q=Keion&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=9F88UqbFKqHl4AO2soHYAg&ved=0CAkQ_AUoAQ&biw=1407&bih=711&dpr=1

Sep. 20 2013 10:53 AM
Angela Kubinec

I think the guest spoke the truth. What she did, based on the facts, may have been a painful choice for her. I respect her right to consider all aspects of naming before making a decision.
At one time my job was to work to raise the quality of education and assist teachers as they improved their craft. I have seen it countless times: the longer the name and the more unique the spelling, the less a child is called on for any purpose. This is a horrid message, and it puts some children on the bench early in the game. They do not know why, and they often think teachers do not like them. How do you explain this to a seven year old?

Sep. 20 2013 10:34 AM
fuva from harlemworld

So...
this woman chose a slave name
instead of
a creative-attempt-at-self-definition name
or an authentic name from the motherland

in order to
accommodate the arbitrary standards of enslavers
and disassociate with the ongoing effects of slavery

instead of
embracing self-definition and self-determination
to fight those effects...

SMH

See, black folk need better analysis of the black experience.
And...I love NPR...but this won't come from NPR.

Sep. 20 2013 10:10 AM
Michell from New York

That was one of the most self-hating racist show I've heard on NPR in a long time. I can't believe the host allowed the guest to refer to people's names in such hateful words " blaack like it was spit on her tongue and Ghetto". There was no critique of American racism. I'm surprise that the guest is not planning to bleach her kids skin because of black skin being ghetto. The guest is one problem but I would think that NPR would not buy into racism and self-hatred dogma.

Sep. 20 2013 10:09 AM
George Buggs from Aiken SC

Black folk used to name their children after biblical icons or respected family or friends of family. It helped keep the community intact. names were like mortar where individuals were brick. Now the names are from anywhere and nowhere and reflect the dissolution of the black family and community.

Sep. 20 2013 09:59 AM

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