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From Karen to Keisha: The New Black Names
TYCA-Southeast (2011)
  • David L Cooper, Jefferson Community and Technical College
Shakespeare wrote: "A rose called by any other name would smell as sweet." What's in a name? Everything and nothing. When I first started teaching, over twenty years ago, most students had either family names or biblical names such as Rebecca, Anne, Carolyn, Andrew, John, or James. This was irrespective of race or class. For the most part black and white American students had the same names. Then, in the 1990s I started to see names that I had difficulty pronouncing, the spellings were not phonetic, and apostrophes appeared in strange places e.g. La'Tonya. Despite the nonstandard spellings the names were unique and often poetic: Lashonda, Keisha,and Ronisha. What's in a name--everything and nothing. According to Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner: "black and white parents have named their children dissimilarly over the past 25 years or so--a remnant, it seems of the Black Power Movement" (Freakonomics). Not only do African American parents often choose dissimilar names from white parents, but more importantly these names serve as a marker of not only race but of socioeconomic status. Moreover, distinctly African American names might hinder a person's ability to get a job interview. And such names can affect teachers' perceptions of their students' abilities. This paper is an attempt to systematically study the new African American names and to draw conclusions about the social and political impact of such names. As mentioned previously, these names can prevent a person from getting a job interview. And one can only speculate: does such a name affect the way a teacher interacts with a student? These names may become labels "full of sound and fury" that signify marginality and exclusion.
  • Onomastics,
  • African American Studies,
  • Sociolinguistics
Publication Date
Spring May, 2011
Citation Information
David L Cooper. "From Karen to Keisha: The New Black Names" TYCA-Southeast Vol. 44 Iss. Number 1 (2011)
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