In offices with substantial racial and class integration, like mine, there are occasionally snickers when someone with an absolutely novel name, like Toyetta, is referred to; that said snickers are borderline racist means that they’re usually quiet.
White people are often disdainful of names given to African-American children, although when pressed they can’t substantiate the reasons for this disdain beyond saying it seems perhaps “low-class” to name someone, say, Vonnessa or Lakesha or Antwon.
The political or historical argument for resisting ‘slave names’ is well known; I’m more interested in the fact that many whites seems to feel it is somehow in questionable taste to have too unique a name, almost as though it’s grandstanding not to share your name with millions of others.
I’ve always been interested in the fact that humans, despite being far more individuated than, say, cars or computers, have comparably unique identifiers; just as I must know that my Xterra is the one with the “Mark it 8, Dude” bumper sticker, I must know that my sister Alex is the Alex with the blonde hair who always hangs around my family; I know many others.
Indeed, most of my friends have names like John, Chris, Paul, William, David, Michael, and so on.
That has always seemed strange to me; we don’t assign our own names, usually, but that you would decide to give a name to your child which you would know they’d share with dozens of acquaintances at all points in their life seems odd. When discussing this with parents, I often hear that they simply didn’t want to risk an unusual name; they worry it would that put social strain on their child, make them stand out.
It’s occurred to me that an excessively unique identifier causes problems not only with cultural integration but with memory; it is harder to remember the name Kalilderana (and its spelling) than the name Amy.
We might think of our names as being like product names (‘iMac’) but the actual descriptive term used by others mentally to refer to us, likely a combination of physical traits, social associations, and other shorthand for who we are, to be like a non-liguistic serial number.
Thanks to the use of this serial number, which is more specific than a name could ever be, we can use easily-recalled general names for introductory and conversational purposes, while the serial number does the real ID work internally. Our common names are like Apple’s product map: the bare minimum required for overall differentiation.
Still, when you think of the name of a loved one, the emotional charge it has when you whisper or scream, how odd that it is shared by so many.