Picking A Baby Name Is Even Harder When Racial Bias Is Involved

by A. Rochaun
Originally Published: 
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I can’t help but notice that there was no “here’s how you preserve your marriage while picking baby names” section during marriage counseling. I should know. We’ve been to a lot of counselors and I’m kind of an expert.

I’m here to say that picking a baby name needs to be directly addressed in all marriage curriculum, because let’s face it, disagreeing on names can make you want to rethink your entire relationship.

Picking a name is stressful AF. It had to be one of the most challenging things we’ve faced to date. But add in conflicting opinions and you take that stress to the next level. I can’t speak for my husband, but there were moments that I was literally insulted by his suggestions.

In retrospect, I might have had a sense of entitlement. Parenting would be a joint effort, but, since I was the one doing the heavy lifting in pregnancy (and likely even after the baby came due to societal pressures on moms), I seemed like my opinion should have the most weight — after all, my body did.

My husband wasn’t having that. So, we did what all relationships do when there are two strong-willed partners. We fought about it.

As one could imagine, involving our families in the discussion didn’t make things any easier. Our families are total opposites, and that difference was reflected in their suggestions.

My family liked strong names with historical relevance like Malcolm and Anthony. And we’re not even gonna talk about the names his family suggested.

I thought of how my family was more likely to be involved. I felt like levels of involvement should factor in whose opinion should carry more weight. Truthfully, the names his family picked probably weren’t that bad, but they didn’t “play it safe” like my family did and I was afraid of what would happen if our children’s names were too unique.

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Like everything else in the world, choosing a baby name is uniquely challenging when you’re doing it while Black. For Black people, name selection has the potential to make or break one’s future in a world that’s already stacked against us. Thinking about the way my child’s name could limit their future made me feel mentally and physically ill at times.

My first name is unique and marrying a multi-ethnic Black man left me with a super long last name. I’ve seen the ways that names shape our life experiences. And like just about everything else in life, those experiences are shaped even more when you are a person of color.

I have experienced countless microaggressions related to my name. And some of the most recent episodes have been within the last week.

We wanted our kids’ names to be unique — but not so unique that they would have to spend the rest of their life watching teachers look perplexed before saying, “Bear with me, I’m probably going to mispronounce this” like I had to hear throughout my life.

Research has documented how names that sound “too Black or ethnic” decrease your chances of getting hired, regardless of qualifications, when compared to more white names like Jennifer and Caitlin.

I wanted my children to have names that made their lives simple. But I knew there was nothing simple about our family identity.

We’re very dynamic – nerdy, witchy, and downright weird. A basic name would never do.

We wanted our children to have names that highlighted our non-traditionalism without inspiring preconceived notions of who they would be. And as one would guess, that is a ridiculously challenging feat to accomplish when you are Black in America.

I understood that my love for those “old school” Black names wasn’t necessarily any different from trying to come up with more generic names that blended easily. In both cases, there were names that sounded nice but I would be picking the name to appease loved ones or society as a whole. There is nothing traditional about us, and to give our children mainstream traditional names seemed like a deviation from our developing family culture.

The more I looked at them, I realized the names his family suggested were weird. But they were authentic and unique like we were.

I’d already wasted months of my pregnancy stressing over names. I didn’t want to feel that way anymore. So instead of doing what others wanted, we started looking at weird earthy-sounding names that matched who we were as a family instead of who others wanted us to be.

When I focused on us and what we plan to create as a family instead of what we were coming from, everything seemed to click. I didn’t get the sick feeling in my stomach when we would have name discussions. I had fewer thoughts about waiting until he walked out of the room and signing a different name from what we agreed upon on the birth certificate. For once, talking about names was a moment for bonding instead of a moment of frustration and stress.

And somehow, we figured it out.

It’s been a long time since that first round of baby name battles. Now we have two lovable and adorable Black kids with their nontraditional, earthy, and low-key witchy names. We love them. We regularly get compliments on how good a fit their names are for our family dynamics. They’re weird kids so the names work for them.

Naming while Black is a series of interconnected challenges. But somehow, we did it twice.

Hopefully, there are no more children in our future, ’cause I’m not so sure we’d survive a third time around.

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