Javon, Deshawn, Trevon, and Devonte are names of just some of the black boys I grew up with. Names which today are being negotiated.
A recent episode of Blackish touched on this topic: the phobia of black names.
Dre (played by Anthony Anderson) wanted to name his unborn child Devonte, but his wife Bo, (who is played by Tracee Ellis Ross) was not having. The name Devonte was “too black.”
I think a lot of us know a Devonte or at least one person with a black name, so when I watched the episode it hit home.
Black names are creative and bring with them a radiance that the last few generations of black children have been able to enjoy. They're recognizable from afar and you know when you've come across one when you read it out loud.
But the recent Blackish episode had me deep in thought.
I wondered if the validity of black names were still in questioned and whether we were teaching our kids to be proud in their blackness or to put their blackness in a box, only to be released it at the most appropriate moment?
If white celebrities have the audacity to name their children, “River,” “Apple,” and “Audio,” black families can surely bestow upon their children names like “DeAndre,” “Aaliyah,” “Terrell,” and “Tyree” while being unapologetic about it.
However, black American names are not respected. A real concern exists; one beyond the perpetual joking about the awkward phonetics and mispronunciation. One that unfortunately involves the policing of what black babies’ names should be.
Black names evoke stereotypes, misconceptions, and single narratives of blackness that are simply not fair. Individuals with black names have heard, if not their entire life, at least once, that their name presents a threat to their future success and/or financial security. It's a warning label we don't deserve.
Multiple studies have confirmed racial biases against black-sounding names, whether in the workforce or in everyday interactions. UCLA researcher Dr. Colin Holbrook found that men with black-sounding names like Jamal and Deshawn were perceived as “bigger” and “more violent” than white-sounding names in a 2015 study.
I remember the advice my mentors gave me and my peers throughout the years about changing our name on job applications. These conversations would often go like: “You must work three times as hard to be more successful than your white peers.”
While our parents, uncles, aunts, teachers and whoever else, meant well, advice like this reinforces white supremacy.
Loved ones always wanted to provide me with as much advice as possible to face the real world, but the type of advice they gave was limiting the scope of our black beauty and wealth.
Policing names reinforces a constant standard and proximity to whiteness that we do not need. These lessons teach us black-sounding names do not belong to people who are employable and that blackness is only celebrated if it models a white aesthetic.
The invalidation of black names encourages young black people to actively hide their blackness and their culture for the pursuit of a fruitful life. We should not have to worry about whether or not someone else takes comfort in our names.
When I was younger, I would sometimes think about which one of my names was “less black" or which name to choose if I ever filled out a scholarship, internship, and/ or job application.
Ask me now if I'll change my name to apply for a job now and the answer would be absolutely not.
I am proud of the name, Lonnie Malik Anderson. This assortment of syllables carries strength and fluidity.
My first name comes from my father, who, coincidentally, shares the same name as my maternal grandfather and uncle. And my middle name, Malik, was my way mother's way of paying homage to her favorite actor Malik Yoba from New York Undercover and Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?
I think she just really liked the sound and who wouldn’t? All my family and friends call me Malik and I love to respond. My name is my birthright and demands the respect of the world, as every black name should.
We deserve the same creative rights and freedoms as everyone else. Black names are unique, brilliant, and linguistically appealing as far as I am concerned. So go ahead and name your child in whichever manner you want, do it for the culture.