Chicago mom asks: What’s in a name?

Growing up I hated my name.

I was frustrated by the number of people who didn’t seem interested in pronouncing or spelling it correctly. To me there was nothing more frustrating than having to correct a teacher repeatedly.

How many times did I have to tell them that I didn’t know who Lila was but I’m sure she was a great person?

Fast forward to the time when I was selecting a name for my own child.

I knew his name would be Arabic, like mine and I knew his name would have some fantastic meaning that would serve him well in medical school. (I have big dreams for this kid!)

But when I chose my son’s name, I wasn’t thinking about the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business study which revealed that names which indicated an applicant may be African American were less likely to be called for an interview.

 Wait. What? 

Nearly ten years after this study, we are still having these conversations about names within the African American community. I can’t help but wonder if other ethnic and racial groups have these conversations about naming.

What makes a name “ethnic?” Don’t most names have some sort of ethnic or cultural history that informs their meaning? By labeling a name “ethnic” we have decided that it’s problematic. What or whose purpose does that serve?

 If I had chosen a different name, would my son be less likely to be stopped by the police? 

If I had chosen a different name, would my son have a less difficult time catching a cab downtown at night?

If I had chosen a different name, would my son be able to shop at Barney’s without being accused of not being able to afford what he purchased?

Regardless of what I named my son, he has two social identities that impact how people perceive him. His race and his gender. And although I am aware of society’s realities, it is my sincere prayer that these perceptions will only be positive.

 So his name is his name. And if you find it problematic you can just call him Doctor instead.
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