Say My Name, Say My Name

I’ve learned to love my name. But it wasn’t always that way. I remember when I was a young child, I was incredibly frustrated that no one else shared my name. I also didn’t like the fact that it’s spelling was not intuitive to most people, and my name was (and is) constantly misspelled. However when I started becoming interested in Judaism, I was surprised and delighted that my name was distinctively Hebrew; to the point where people wondered if one of my parents was Israeli.

While my relatively newly found pride in my name has stopped my desire to change my name, I still find myself getting put off by people who misspell and mispronounce my name. The most common misspellings being “Rashawna” or “Rishonda” — both of which strike my eye as ‘ghetto names‘ (which is a term that is highly subjective and far from definitive, by the way). Yet it is most likely not fair for me to expect the majority of the general public to understand the etymology of my name. For all they know, my mother could have just made it up by stringing some sounds together.

But getting back to the ‘ghetto name’ bit…because I feel people reading this can misinterpret my intentions here: to me, a name is a name. Being ‘ghetto’ is largely a state of mind and attitude…and it surpasses locale and economic status. However, that is my view — which differs from society’s view. CBS News ran this story showing how those with ‘Black-sounding’ names are less likely to receive a callback on their resume. Here’s what they reported:

White names got about one callback per 10 resumes; black names got one per 15. Carries and Kristens had call-back rates of more than 13 percent, but Aisha, Keisha and Tamika got 2.2 percent, 3.8 percent and 5.4 percent, respectively. And having a higher quality resume, featuring more skills and experience, made a white-sounding name 30 percent more likely to elicit a callback, but only 9 percent more likely for black-sounding names.

I remember having conversations regarding names with two of my previous co-workers. One was a tall, blonde girl named Keisha ____ (her last name was also ‘Black sounding’) who said that on several job interviews (and we were only 24 years old at the time), the people remarked with surprise that she was not Black. Yet she took it in stride…generally finding it funny. Another conversation was with a Black co-worker of mine named LaToya, who was less than impressed with her name…and felt like it branded her at a Black woman to employers. She felt like I could relate. I asked her, “Why?”. Her response was that my name also “sounded Black”. I told her in some places yes, but most likely not in South Florida — which had a significant Jewish and Israeli population (in fact I knew two other Rishonas in Florida, both were White women). I encouraged her to Google my name, and she was surprised to see that about 50% of the results were non-Black people.

The fact that I get bent out of shape over misconceptions and bastardizations about/of my name shows that I most likely have some deep-seated issues with self-worth. I am Black, and proud of it — but I don’t want my name on paper to be held up to someone else’s misguided stereotypes about Black people. But the same can be said in regards to seeing me on the street. The difference is if my name were Tiffany or Jessica, at least I would make it past that initial round of racism (if appearances are left out of it). But when it comes to racist people, does it even matter how you are as a person? Are they ever able to get past your skin color to begin with?

But don’t get me wrong — I’m not changing my name. I may think that Beyonce is overrated, but I give her props for keeping her birth name. But just like people have learned to spell and pronounce her name, I would really appreciate the same type of consideration. Really….it’s the polite thing to do!