Tuesday, July 12, 2005

What's in a Name?

According to research by University of Florida economist David Figlio, it could be your academic success. He asserts through his research that the creative names given to African American children could be a reason for their lagging behind in studies as compared to children with more traditional names. The reason, he says, is not because of the names, but rather, it's a result of "the impression [given] educators who - biased by the names' uniqueness and their own stereotypes about parents who would bestow such names on a child - don't set high goals for the children."

He continues by saying that the teachers "internalize black-sounding names to mean the parents aren't educated and as a result are poor." I won't go into too much greater detail here about the article, but I encourage people to read it in its entirety.

When I first read the article, I balked. I thought it outrageous that someone would try to attribute academic success to the way a person is named. And I'm sure many of you thought the same thing. However, when you hear the names Laqueshia, Lomarqutious, or Courvoisier (after the cognac), do you imagine doctors, lawyers, or engineers? Or do you think of people who might get through Junior college, or the DeVry Institute?

I think the article gets it right at the close, though, when they point out that the key to academis success depends on the individual. If you convey yourself as a successful, studious person, then you'll be treated as such, and you will do better in school.

It's an interesting concept, but I don't know how accurate it is. Still, interesting to think about.


red.hot.mamma! said...

i haven't read the article yet, but i found your brief synopsis interesting. from what you've said, my gut reaction is not "you should name your child some boring, white-sounding name" but that this is another way that we can become aware of our prejudices, stereotypes and racism and challenge our way of thinking. it's an ongoing process.

Gramma said...

As an educator in the public system, I can attest to the difficulty of taking seriously a student whose name is Sir, or Precious, or Uneek. Let alone the examples you provided. After nearly 20 years, I hope I have learned, as red.hot.mamma! points out, to "become aware of our prejudices, stereotypes and racism..." I also think of the black comedian who said he would name his children Robert and Jane because he wanted them to at least get TO the interview before they were rejected for their race. I wonder if we'll ever learn?

Bookworm said...

No, we'll never learn, Gramma. We live in a world of first impressions, and it's foolish to try to make everyone change. I can never figure the Harvard boys who dress like gangbangers, and then are miffed when people who see them coming cross the street. Or the Ivy League girls who dress like hookers, and then become furious when men hit on them. So, if you're named Shanikwa, think about moving that to your middle name, and making your professional name Carol. If you insist on clinging to your individuality, be willing to take the preconceptions that might come with that choice. And BTW, might there some truth in the notion that it is more likely to be a high schooler who got pregnant at 15 who named her child Shanikwa, than a doctor and lawyer couple? And is it more likely that the high schooler is going to raise her child with less academic focus than the doctor and lawyer? Reality bites.