Search Box

Monday, February 14, 2011

More sprinter names

There is a high school girl from Connecticut who has run a mile in 4:49 and two miles in 10:24 this indoor season. I was wondering how those times ranked nationally, so I looked her up, and sure enough, she is number one in both events. 

While looking her up, I was once again sidetracked by the high percentage of unique names among the sprinters.

Certain names have actually become semi-legitimized by their increasing frequency, for instance, Hakeem and Jamal: I no longer take note of these. Both of those names, by the way, are actual Muslim names you find in the Middle East. (In Arabic, "Jamal" means handsome, and "Hakeem" can mean either wise one or doctor.)

It has always mystified me that so many African-Americans have adopted Muslim culture as their own, when sub-Saharan Africans' primary contact with Muslims was with the slavers who came south to capture them. So while "Reginald Jones" may be a slave name, so in fact is "Jamal." 

Certain female names such as Shaniqua and Lashondra have also gained a certain legitimacy through repetition.

Many of these names have a very distinct flavor. They seem to rely heavily on q's, v's, z's, and weirdly, apostrophes. One example would be the name of the nation's top-rated high school football prospect, Jadeveon Clowney, who announced today that he would attend South Carolina. That name couldn't possibly belong to somebody from another ethnic group. And maybe that's the point: the parents don't want to give their child some boring old white name. But the price the kids pay is that they often end up sounding a bit, well, clowny.

There are also names like Donte and Jeryl and Leshon, which, though they have none of those letters, are still unmistakably black. Many of these names seem to be accented on the second syllable.

Some of the names are naively aspirational, like the "Lexus" I referred to four posts ago. When I was at Columbia Business School there was a guy who worked in the locker room there named "Harvard," and he told me he had two brothers named "Cornell" and "Yale." A black friend once told me that there were two boys at his middle school named "Colonel" and "General." (My friend added, "It makes you want to take the parents by the neck and ask them, what were you thinking?")

A fair number of the names seem merely like unintentional misspellings. Antwan, for instance, is probably just a misspelled Antoine. (What must it be like to go through your entire life as a misspelling?) Some of the variation may be intentional -- such as Tikuan for Tyquan -- but it's hard to escape the suspicion that there is also some error involved.

In today's politically correct world, it feels almost a little wrong, even indecent, to be examining these names so closely. (After all, political correctness is often a matter of averting one's eyes.) But names are in the public record, and the parents were aware of this when they named their children.

Here are a few examples from the national high school track rankings, along with some speculation as to what the parents might have been thinking.

Boys' names:

-Majique. (Were his parents thinking "magic" or "majestic" or perhaps a combination?)

-Jihaad. (Hard not to wonder about the patriotism of his parents.)

-Jermey. (Will this young man grow up to be germ-phobic?)

-Torri. (Isn't that more of a girl's name? Was his father not planning to stick around, and thinking along the same lines as the father in A Boy Named Sue?)

-Nainy. (Sounds like something something little kids say to each other on the playground: nyaah nyaah, nainy nainy boo boo.)

-Jaquon. (However strange this name may sound, it is still infinitely preferable to Jaquoff.)

-Defario. (It's striking how many of these names have an Italianate flavor.)

-L'Zereck. (I honestly can't think of anything to say about this one, but feel compelled to include it anyway.)

-Mar-Keo (Runners: on your mar-keo, get set, go!)

-J'Tier (An apostrophe always makes me wonder what the missing letters are -- J'hn.)

-Champ (He has run a 35.03 for the 300, so his parents were actually somewhat prescient.)

-Darious (His parents must have thought that he would be like the Persian king Darius, without actually being him.)

[Note: should any of these young men happen to read this post, be incensed by it, and want to come after me, I won't exactly be able to outrun them; each name listed so far belongs to a sprinter who is at least borderline world class.] 

Girls' names:

-Myasia (Does this not sound vaguely like a disease? Were her parents possibly inspired by something they read at the hospital?)

-Sheniece (Was she named by her aunt or uncle rather than her parents?)

-Tynia (It's hard for me not to hear "tin ear," but then again, I have one myself.)

-Dynasty (Were her parents fans of that TV show? As much of a fan of a certain show as I am, I would never have named my daughter "Jeopardy." )

-Rushell. (This young lady runs a 200 indoors in 25.25, so at least lives up to her name.)

-Nyanka. (She must run the anka leg on the relay.)

-Shakia (As in, shake ya booty?)

-Qualitra (One can't help but wonder which quality her parents thought they were instilling with this name.)

-Dezerea, Chrystal, Taranisha, Chamique, Mikiah, Jenira, Tahje, Aneesha, Devanae, Lequisha, Keondra, Shenika, Jande, Demeshia, Dephanie, Kadecia, Javette, Kamilah. With their vowel endings, these are all sound like female names, but somehow they're not....quite.

It is probably time for me to open up my mind on this issue. Maybe I'm just jealous because I have such a boring name.

And perhaps I'm being a bit superficial. After all, in only a slight paraphrase of Shakespeare, a Demeshia by any other name would smell as sweet.

No comments: