What’s In A Name



I have been thinking a lot about names lately. For starters, a professional dancer just asked me this weekend what I would like for my NEW name to be. Her name is Twyla Tharp and she is a wonderwoman choreographer of the New York Ballet caliber. This is one uber creative chick. I am reading her book (yes, I have begrudgingly delved into the self-help genre). It is about the importance of feeding our creative habits. One of the exercises is to consider your name….does it drive you to fulfill some sort of ambition or does it limit you by virtue of your less than stellar dna (think Bin Laden or Hitler)?

Ms. Tharp gives examples like Mozart, Joseph Conrad and other obvious success stories whose real names are hidden on their birth certificates because they a) wanted a pen name to empower them or b) as in Mozart’s case, the name was just too darn long to remember. Well, I do not want to change my name. I already did that once when I got married and it was a painful process. My maiden name somewhat ends with me….there are no boys in my family. 

But let’s think for a minute about other kids whose parents may or may not have been of sound mind post-delivery in the maternity ward. Some might argue that their epidurals were hijacked with a dose of mescaline or some other mind-warping substance. The truth is that here in America, we have lots of freedoms. Thankfully. Very thankfully. We even have the right to name your child Prom Date or Past Curfew for that matter. In fact, our neighborhood school has some of its own divinely creative children with the following names:

  • Gift
  • Lieutenant
  • Diamond
  • Omigale (Pron. Oh Muh Golly)
  • Starshai

That’s really just the tip of the name iceberg at our school. Here is what I KNOW to be true about every single one of these kids. They are ALL bright. They are ALL kind. They all have ridiculous amounts of potential to be superb citizens of this crazy world that they have inherited. Here is what I also know to be true. The cards are already stacked against them before their resume even gets the 30 second glance over, assuming they each obtain a diploma indicative of higher education. And the reason? Not their GPA. Surely not their spot on the Debate Team. But quite possibly, their name. You may be thinking what I was thinking a few years ago. Surely the world- even as it spins slightly off of its axis (literally) these days- would not discriminate based solely on a name. Yes, it would. Yes, it does. Yes, it will. Not fair? Yeah, no duh. But life never is according to even the most optimistic of the cup-half-fullers. I sometimes think that perhaps we ought to consider naming our kids in a manner that renders them untouchable by this phantom prejudice that exists, well, pretty much everywhere- even in the most progressive metropolis.

I have already wavered on this a few times so I figured I better just blog it out before I wobble back to the other side of the fence. Naming your child is a freedom. It should stay that way, right? In many cases, a name is a choice driven by the desire to honor heritage and ethnicity. Oh, I get that. As the most caucasian of caucasions, I really do get that. I also really wish that there were’nt so many snap judgment-proned folks in positions of power who do not get it. I mean look at the ridiculous amount of negative attention our own President has received based on his name? Noone is exempt. Folks tried to peg Obama as a radical militant in disguise based on his name alone in my zip code (ok, I am in the South which I do love dearly but that’s another blog entirely).

Here is the flip side though. Take Twyla Tharp, dancer extraordinaire, for example. She felt that her name destined her for greatness from the get-go. I am also sure that it made her a target by a bully or two along the way. I was recently at a dinner at which the whiskey served was made by a gentleman by the name of Pappy VanWinkle. Now, if that 23-year-old whiskey wasn’t destined from greatness when it started as mash in a white oak barrel. Would the same have been said of a whiskey project conjured by another name? Use your imagination here. No…it would likely be relegated to the shelf by the Brass Monkey and brown paper sacks. Pappy was destined to be a whiskey magician or something extraordinary from the moment the ink dried on his birth certificate. Hemingway. Same thing. Should be said of anyone whose potential is limitless- no matter their name.

We can try to equip some of these uniquely named kids to overcome or at least sidestep bullies in school but can we save them from the glance-over as they seek greatness but are passed over in the business world as they try to make a living? I admit I rolled my eyes when Gwyneth came up with the Apple moniker and most recently as Jay-Z and Beyonce chose Blue Ivy. Guilty as charged sometimes (and not happy about it). And you?

Keeping my Irish name and proud of it, Shannon



CBSNews article: ‘Black Names A Resume Burden? (Feb. 2009)



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s