Recently, I read reports of the charges levied against 14 people accused of raising funds for a Somali terrorist organization. I must say one thing that stood out to me was how all of the names of those charged were distinctly Muslim. It got me to thinking of the conundrum my husband and I found ourselves in when trying to come up with a name for our first son eight years ago.
By the time we had decided on the Old Testament name we liked the best, we struggled a bit on how to spell it. We both preferred a slightly different pronunciation of the name we chose, but, for most people to see the name and pronounce it as we preferred, it would have been better that we replace the “C” in the first letter with a “K.” The problem? That change would mean his name would appear to be more Arabic or Muslim-like. You see, he was born shortly after the dreaded 9/11 attacks, and at that time the anti-Muslim and -Islam sentiments were at an all-time high. Emotions were still very raw. Practicing Sikhs, who were mistaken as Muslims, were reporting hate attacks left and right. Not wanting our child to have yet another hurdle and stigma attached to him and have to deal with all of that, we elected to stick with the traditional spelling of his name but pronounce it as we preferred. Yes, it meant he would be doomed to having his name mispronounced for the rest of his life. What a cruel punishment from parents who both have unique names.
In any event, we do not regret our decision. I once joked that I wanted to keep him from accidentally winding up on a “no-fly” list, as Ghatt is an Indian name. I figured he deserved a chance at being able to get on a plane without hassle. And, to think, these days, the anti-Muslim sentiments are brewing once again and not without provocation, given all of the recent attempts at a domestic attack from Islamic radicals on our home soil. More recently, a substantial amount of Americans opposed a mosque to be built at a site north of where the World Trade Center once stood. In fact, the entire country seems to be divided when it comes to feelings about an invasion from outsiders, whether they be terrorists or those aiding them or illegal immigrants.
My father and about 70 percent of my relatives are Muslim, and I have several close Muslim friends whose children, naturally, also have Muslim names. I am optimistic that they will be fine growing in America without too many impediments based on their names alone. However, I can’t help but suspect they may encounter a hiccup or two during their lifetimes.
Similarly, it is no hidden secret that many blacks in America for decades have struggled with the decision of whether to name their children a traditional African or African-American names that would give away the race of their children on paper – that paper being resumes or a job applications. Before the child is even born, some parents are concerned that a uniquely black name, like Asha, Ebony, Jamal, Clarence or Tanisha, for example, would lessen the chances of that child being cleared for a job interview, should the person screening applicants have any race-based biases.
With a president named Barack Obama in office, we would hope that the days of name discrimination are long over; however, it is hard to know if the person shifting through resumes to select interview applicants will be able to put aside any stereotypes he or she may have and consider only the credentials of an applicant. No one wants his or her child to be cut off from a chance to prove himself or herself and his or her qualifications during an interview out of the gate.
A while ago, I noticed a trend among many of my black American friends in that they were giving their children names that were more traditionally associated with Caucasian children and some of which were distinctly androgynous.
In fact, during the years that I took my children to Gymboree classes from 2002 to 2008, I was taken aback by the number of black and brown Kennedys, Morgans, Briannas, Masons, Madisons, Jordans, Carters, Paytons, Baileys, Haileys, Montanas, Regans and Brandis I saw running around.
I wondered if the parents so named their children because they had familial significance, because those were just very pretty names or simply because they may have been more “resume” proof!
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