Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Distinctive Black Names: Excerpt From "A Roshanda by Any Other Name" Article (with my comments)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post presents an excerpt of the 2005 article "A Roshanda by Any Other Name" by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

Name lists that were linked to that 2005 article are found in Addendum #1 of this post. My comments about the names that are listed and the name "Roshanda" are given in Addendum #2 of this post. Those comments point out how the names of Black celebrities & other mass media indices influence and reflect the popularities of certain Black names.

It's important to emphasize that no name belongs exclusively to any particular race or ethnicity. Names that are labeled "Black names" or "White names" may be given to a child of any race or ethnicity.

This post is part of an ongoing series on distinctive African American names and naming practices. Other posts in this series can be accessed by clicking the "distinctive African American names" tab below.

The content of this post is presented for cultural, sociological, and linguistic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner for writing the article that is featured in this post. Thanks also to Steven D. Levitt and Roland G. Fryer Jr. whose research was the topic of that article. Thanks also to abagond for publishing the list from that research of popular names by race, and thanks to all others who are quoted in this post.

"How do babies with super-black names fare?"

By Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

...These are the sort of questions [about the influence of a person's name on his or her life choices] that led to "The Causes and Consequences of Distinctively Black Names," a research paper written by a white economist (Steven Levitt, a co-author of this article) and a black economist (Roland G. Fryer Jr., a young Harvard scholar who studies race). The paper acknowledged the social and economic gulf between blacks and whites but paid particular attention to the gulf between black and white culture. Blacks and whites watch different TV shows, for instance; they smoke different cigarettes. And black parents give their children names that are starkly different than white children's.

The names research was based on an extremely large and rich data set: birth-certificate information for every child born in California since 1961. The data covered more than 16 million births. It included standard items like name, gender, race, birthweight, and the parents' marital status, as well as more telling factors: the parents' ZIP code (which indicates socioeconomic status and a neighborhood's racial composition), their means of paying the hospital bill for the birth (again, an economic indicator), and their level of education.

The California data establish just how dissimilarly black and white parents have named their children over the past 25 years or so—a remnant, it seems, of the Black Power movement. The typical baby girl born in a black neighborhood in 1970 was given a name that was twice as common among blacks than whites. By 1980, she received a name that was 20 times more common among blacks. (Boys' names moved in the same direction but less aggressively—likely because parents of all races are less adventurous with boys' names than girls'.) Today, more than 40 percent of the black girls born in California in a given year receive a name that not one of the roughly 100,000 baby white girls received that year. Even more remarkably, nearly 30 percent of the black girls are given a name that is unique among every baby, white and black, born that year in California. (There were also 228 babies named Unique during the 1990s alone, and one each of Uneek, Uneque, and Uneqqee; virtually all of them were black.)

What kind of parent is most likely to give a child such a distinctively black name? The data offer a clear answer: an unmarried, low-income, undereducated, teenage mother from a black neighborhood who has a distinctively black name herself. Giving a child a super-black name would seem to be a black parent's signal of solidarity with her community—the flip side of the "acting white" phenomenon. White parents, meanwhile, often send as strong a signal in the opposite direction. More than 40 percent of the white babies are given names that are at least four times more common among whites....

So, what are the "whitest" names and the "blackest" names? Click here for the top 20 each for girls and here for the top 20 each for boys. (For the curious, we've also put together a list of the top 20 crossover names —the ones that blacks and whites are most likely to share.) [Editor: The links given in that article appear to be broken. However, those lists were published on a 1009 blog and appear in Addendum #1 below.]

....The data show that, on average, a person with a distinctively black name—whether it is a woman named Imani or a man named DeShawn—does have a worse life outcome than a woman named Molly or a man named Jake. But it isn't the fault of his or her name. 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."

ADDENDUM #1: Lists of names that were linked to the article which is excerpted from the "A Roshanda By Any Other Name" article.

I believe those lists are the same as the ones that are included in the 2008 blog post "Top American Baby Names By Race"







ADDENDUM #2: My comments about some of the names on the "Blackest" lists and my comments about the name "Roshanda"
Regarding the list of "Blackest" names for boys:
The names "Darnell" and "Terrell" are examples of the popularity among African Americans of the "el" ending. However, I think that suffix is less popular than it was in the 1960s/1970s/

The names "DeAndre" and "DeShawn" are examples of the popularity of the prefix "de" among African Americans. "De" is pronounced "dee". Like many distinctive African American names, "DeAndre" and "DeShawn" have multiple spellings. A rather common form of the name "DeShawn" is "DaShawn" (with the "Da" prefix pronounced "day". "Day Day" is a familiar nickname for the name "DaShawn".

Although I have no way of proving it, I believe that the popularity among African Americans of "Shawn" ("Shaun") male and female names is in large part because of the popularity of the James Bond movies. Sean Connery was the first actor to play James Bond and those movies became megahits in the United States around the same time that more African Americans than ever before began rejecting "regular" names for names that were "different" and "unique". Changing "Sean" to "Shawn" or "Shaun" made that name look different. Also, changing the spelling of "Sean" to "Shawn" conformed to the phonic reading program that in the 1970s was being used to teach reading in American public schools. And probably influenced by the phonic reading programs, the Hip Hop music/culture was big on changing words to more closely fit the way that they sounded (for example, the word "fat" was changed to "phat"). Therefore, the spelling "Shawn" or "Shaun" for "Sean" not only better met phonic's "sounding out words" instruction, but it made that name look and sound "hip".

"Malik" is an Arabic/Swahili name that is usually translated as "Prince."

"Marquis" is a status name which has been given to Black males for a long time.

Unfortunately, the name "Trevon" has been much more well known because of the death of Trayvon Martin. "Trevon" likely was created by combining the word "tre" (from Spanish "tres" meaning "three" from Spanish "tres") with the name "Von" (a variant form of the name "Vaugn"). Consider the relatively common Black male name "Trey". "Tray" in the name "Trayvon" is a form of the name "Trey". However, neither "Trevon", "Trayvon", or "Trey" have to be the third male with that name in their family. (for example, the fictitious name "Vaughn Jackson, III".

"Tyrone" is an example of a name that used to be considered a standard name among White Americans which is dropped by White people because (the perception is) that more Black people are using it.
Erykah Badu's song "Call Tyrone" ( is relatively popular among a number of African Americans. That 1997 song probably reflects the increased Black usage of the Irish name "Tyrone" (and added to that usage) rather than being the impetus for African Americans' choosing that name for boys. The meaning of the name Tyrone (from Owen's territory) has less to do with the name than the association of that name with suave American movie actor Tyrone Power (1914-1958). That actor's last name may have also influenced the way that African Americans, if not other Americans, feel about the name "Tyrone".

Regarding the list of "Blackest" names for girls:
"Aaliyah" is an Arabic/Swahili name which became more well known among African Americans because of the Hip Hop recording artist "Aliyah".

The name "Deja" is pronounced "DAY-jah". In spite of its spelling, "Deja" isn't part of the rather large sub-category of distinctive African American names that being with the prefix "de". Note that that prefix is pronounced "dee". "Deja" is a newly created name that is probably a clip of the word "deja vu". However, the name "Deja" has no established meaning. "Deja" may be attractive to African Americans because it looks and sounds like what we think are "African" names for girls -with Arabic names included in that category- because it ends in the "ah" sound. Also, for what ever reason, "j" names and "j" sounds are big among African Americans.

"Diamond" and "Precious" are what I call "high regard" names- names that show how highly the child's family regards that child; how well they think of that child

"Ebony" is a female name whose popularity was probably greatly influenced by the Black oriented monthly magazine with that title.

"Imani" (pronunciation e-MAH-nee) is a Swahili name that is derived from the Arabic word "Iman". The name "Imani" (meaning "faith") is the seventh and last day (New Year's Day) of Kwanzaa, the cultural celebration observing African-American heritage. The name "Nia" (NEE-ah) also in large part owes its popularity among African Americans to the Kwanzaa holiday. ""Nia" (purpose) is day five of Kwanzaa. Note that I believe that few African Americans actually celebrate Kwanzaa. Just like African Americans who aren't Muslim can have Arabic names, African Americans who don't celebrate Kwanzaa can have names that have been given to a principle that is honored during Kwanzaa.

"Shanice" ("SHA-neese) is the only name of those lists of Black names that begins with the large sub-set of distinctive Black names that begin with the "Sha" or "Ch" prefix. The R&B singer "Shanice" has helped to popularize this name.

I think that the name "Shanice" is a member of the large family of names that derive from and have the same meaning as the male name "John" ("Shan" is a Irish variant form of the name "Shaun", meaning "beloved of God").

With the preface that words that are spelled the same may have different origins and meanigs, I'd like to share this link for information about the Arabic male/female name "Shan" (also given as "Shaan" and other spellings: It's possible that "Shanice" might have been been created as a variant form of the Swahili name "Shani" meaning "marvelous", but I doubt both of those derivations.

The suffixes "eese" and "ice" have long been favored by African Americans for female names and male names. The birth name for the African American singer/actress Della Reese is "Delloreese". "Tyrese" is a male name that ends in "ese". R&B singer, songwriter, actor Tyrese Gibson helps to popularize that name. The fictional character "Tyreese" in in Walking Dead comic book series and television series reflects the popularity of that name and undoubtedly will increase that name's popularity.

As mentioned in the beginning of this post, no name belongs to any particular race or ethnicity. For example, "Annise", a name with the "ice" (eese) suffix, is the first name of Annise Parker, the Anglo-American mayor of the United State's fourth largest city - Houston, Texas.

The name "Roshanda":
My guess is that the female name "Roshanda" was created by creatively "playing around with" the name "Shoshana". Here's information about the name "Shoshana" from
"Shoshana (Shoshanna(h))... is a Hebrew feminine first name. It is the name of at least two women in the Bible, and via Σουσάννα (Sousanna), it developed into such European names as Susanna, Susan, Susanne, Susana, Susannah, Suzanne, Suzie and Sanna. The original Hebrew form Shoshana, from which all these are ultimately derived, is still commonly used in contemporary Israel, often shortened to "Shosh" or "Shoshi". In Biblical times "shoshana" referred to a lily (from Lilium family); in modern Hebrew it is often understood as referring to a rose."
-end of quote-

The name "Roshanda" probably has nothing to do with the Yiddish name "Shanda" which means "shame"" "IT’S A “SHANDA”" by Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
"In Yiddish, "shanda"/"shande" means "shame." And "shande far di kinder" means, literally, "a disgrace for the children.""

Hit series creator, screenwriter, director, producer Shonda Rhimes (born January 13, 1970) may be a variant form of the name "Roshanda" or another name with the "anda" ending. Shonda is Ms. Rhimes first name and isn't an abbreviation of a longer name (Her full name is "Shonda Lynn Rhimes.")

The name "Roshanda" may (also) be a variant form of the name "Rolanda". Rolanda Watts was the host of the 1994-1997 daytime American television talk show that was named "Rolanda". Ms. Watt's father was named "Roland". That said, the suffix "anda" (pronounced "ahndah") doesn't mean "daughter of". And the suffixes "esha" and "isha" also don't mean "daughter of" as some commenters surmised in an early 2000s blog discussion thread on so-called Black "ghetto names". Like most prefixes and suffixes used by African Americans to create names, those elements don't mean anything. Their sound and their look are what's important.

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