Tuesday, April 22, 2008

On having a black name

My blog name is my grandmother's name, Daisy. My real name is one that would identify me very easily, so I don't use it. But I recently realized that something is missing in my online identity. While reading about The Carnival of Allies (proposed by The Angry Black Woman), I noted that I have never had to pointedly present myself as an ally to black people (not every minority; I specifically refer to black people) because they have usually assumed that I am.

They assume so, I figure, because I have a black name.

~*~

The first time it happened, I was in the third grade. I had moved to Columbus, Ohio, from a small town near Cleveland, where various types of ethnic names were common. No one had said anything about my name, since there were various names considered genuinely odd and unpronounceable in my class. Mine drew no attention there. But then, we moved. For about a year, the class I was in was mostly white. (As white flight reigned, within the year, my classes ran one-third to one-half black.)

The teacher called the roll. She got to my name, screwed up her face, looked confused, even alarmed. She said my name, _____? (Trepidation? Why?)

I answered.

She looked relieved. "That's an unusual name," she remarked, smiling. Why was she relieved?

I answered dutifully, "My mother made it up," which I believed was true. My mother had said so.

The teacher furrowed her brow, "Well, I've heard the name before," she said. She HAD? I was astonished. I had never met anyone else with my name. I thought it was mine and mine alone. Unique and one-of-a-kind.

"It's a N-GGER name!" some boy in the back of the room shouted, and the room erupted with laughter. I was too stunned to be embarrassed. I was taught that you weren't supposed to use that word. Would he get in trouble?

"Now, now, we'll have none of that!" the teacher injected, obviously slightly amused.

"But IT IS!" he shouted back, his comrades hooting with hysteria. "IT IS!"

"Well, maybe it is," she answered, "but that's nothing you should be saying like that!" She pursed her lips in disapproval; she didn't seem all that upset by it. Then she smiled sweetly at me, "And I'm sure _____ doesn't want you to talk about her name like that!"

I didn't, but I also didn't know why. I just wanted to cry. I told my mother.

"I made UP that name," she yelled indignantly, at no one in particular. "And they shouldn't be saying 'n-gger' in school!!! I hope you know you STILL AREN'T ALLOWED to use that word?!?" I nodded; I knew.

"I made UP that name," she repeated. "Well, damn!" She lit a cigarette. "Sorry, kid. It's so hard to be original."

(Lately, with all the appropriation issues in the feminist blogosphere, that line has been echoing in my head.)

~*~

I am a white woman, a blond, blue-eyed white woman, and I have a first name strongly associated with black women. My mother, a southerner by birth, never stopped telling me she made the name up. The fact that she truly could not remember ever hearing the name before, is a testament to the strength of southern segregation. It is likely she heard it once or twice, and simply forgot it until later. Just like those legendary blues riffs that got lifted from black musicians. (Is it plagiarism if you just FORGOT where you heard it?) And so, even at 50 years old, I have a name that makes people do a double-take. "You're _____?" is something I have heard all my life. "Yes, that would be me," is what I say, as they look confused. I have upset the social order. Names, I have learned, are a big, big part of it.

I always knew, for example, without really articulating why, that I should go in person to fill out a job application. Make sure they see you, I would think, unconsciously. I always called after sending in a resume, made sure they heard me. But even so, it's always been a problem; I have always had trouble securing interviews if I didn't already know someone in the company. And I have always known why. I was happy when the experts vindicated me.

And I only got my silly record and book reviews published when I started using a pseudonym. Were they suddenly more readable?

In the south, a few white women have my name--some have made sure to tell me about their aunts or cousins who have the "unusual" name, and how they spelled it (since nobody spells it exactly the same way). But it remains a "black" name--to the extent that several racist parodies have used my name, for instance, in places like The National Lampoon. Googling my first name, I find: an African-American Olympic medal winner, an African-American recipe website, a still-unknown jazz singer, a model, a teacher. All black women.

In addition, I've received black-oriented catalogs, mass-mailings, spam, coupons, radio station advertisements and invitations to church.

Saturday Night Live even assigned my name to a black crackhead-character in a comedy skit. I was at a small social gathering of mostly-white people when I saw it, and a roar of laughter went up at the mention of the character's name. Just like when I was in the third grade.

For some reason, it's always considered funny. Mistaken identity, ha ha ha. People of all races confide to me, laughing, that I'm the only white ____ they have ever met!

Why, exactly, is that funny? Because I've never understood why.

~*~

When I did customer service, I worked with mostly black women. And we were supposed to give our names, like good customer service robots: "Thank you for calling blabbity blabbity, I'm _____, how may I help you?"

"WHAT did you say your name was?"

Here it comes.

I always repeated it, obediently. And I often heard lots of illuminating stuff after that. A few:

"Are you a n-gger?"

"Are you black? Give me someone white. I want someone who can find their ass with both hands, no offense."

"Oh, God no."

(to someone else in the room) "Oh guess what, guys? I've got ______ on the phone, and she's gonna -solve- our problem!!!!" (room responds with hoots, hollers, boos, laughter, etc.)

"Give me someone white, and don't argue with me about it, just do it." (On these calls, I very much enjoyed getting the black supervisor with the British accent on the line; we both enjoyed putting one over on them. But I always made sure to tell the supervisor what was up.)

In other cases, I dug my heels in. Fuck you, I thought.

In short, on the phone, when assumed to be black, I reacted that way. When asked point-black if I was black, I wouldn't tell. "Why?" I'd ask.

"Because I need to get someone who KNOWS WHAT THEY ARE DOING," they'd reply, screaming. They would wait a half-hour for a supervisor they believed was white, before they'd let me deal with their situation, as I could have done in 5 minutes or less.

They made all sorts of assumptions when I wouldn't tell. "Most white people don't want to be mistaken for black," said one woman authoritatively, "so I think you're black, but you don't sound like it." Obviously, she thought this was a high compliment.

"You never know," I said.

~*~

:: At a retail location, a white male sales rep asked who was purchasing the books for a display, which was my job: _______ is, he was told. He blanched, shook his head adamantly and had something of a fit. He needed someone who knew about READING.

:: Employees are attending a seminar and a list of attendees' names given over the phone, to reserve seating . Wait, WHAT'S that name, again, who? "Has she finished high school?" (Everyone must finish high school to have the job in the first place, so why this question?)

:: "That's the worst name I ever heard, unless you're black, and you ain't!"

:: "Did your mom expect you to be black, or wasn't she sure who your daddy was?"

:: Lots of canceled dates, due to my name. Lots of changed invitations. And these were (white) guys my friends wanted me to meet, fellas they assured me were nice. I would invariably hear that the guy snorted derisively and/or initially freaked out: "I'm not going out with ______!!!" --until informed that I was blond and pale. Then he would.

But then, I wouldn't.

~*~

Various factors have influenced my politics. My mother was an EEOC representative and disability activist. She believed all people should be treated equally, and she lived her politics. And somewhere along the line, she gave me a black name, which has helped to guide my life. I have been forced, even against my will, to identify with a despised people.

"I know, I gave you a black name! I still thought I made it up," she told me, some time before her final illness.

"But it's been GOOD FOR YOU!" she announced. And then she smiled, satisfied.

It has been.

165 comments:

Frank Frink said...

I truly enjoyed reading that, Daisy. One I could appreciate, though my situation is similar though somewhat different.

I'm a French-Canadian with a distinctly non French-Canadian name. There's a story behind that, too, and not what most people would expect. So, I occasionally have the anti-Quebecois Anglo-Canadian, who thinks I'm just like them... well, you know where I'm going with that. Consequently I try my best not to be assumptive about other people's names.

Funny thing, names. I wonder who most people would assume Mr. F. A. Hrabowski (III) would be if they had never meet him?

Octogalore said...

That's a great story! Now I'm curious to know what it is.

sugar mag said...

Daisy, Your mom sounds very cool. I am so sorry that she is gone. What an interesting insight you have. Mean people suck.

thene said...

My new surname is Arabic. It's something my US family joke about - that Arab grandfather has got them into trouble at airports, but all except one of us are too pale to ever be taken for Arabs in day-to-day life. I like my name and hope it's good for me. But I guess I'll really find out when I get my work permit, eh?

Annwyd said...

This is a fascinating post about, well, a fascinating subject.

I have to wonder, since it's relevant to my recent thinking, if one of the reasons people reacted with such shock, and were so reluctant to accept that you were white, is that, well, once they decided you were black, you'd been put into the marked category. And once marked, you can't be unmarked and become a normal default human again.

Vanessa said...

Omg Daisy, you've reminded me of so many call center experiences I've had based on race and names!

The woman on my team who had a Spanish accent, whose calls I listened to during my training, for instance. People heard her accent and immediately treated her like an idiot, sounding so annoyed that they would have to endure slightly inflected vowel sounds spoken to them.

Or the white guy at another call center I worked at who found that if he told people his name was "Takeshi" or another Japanese-sounding name they suddenly took his computer advice seriously.

Or countless experiences I've had. I don't sound stereotypically "black" and I don't have a "black" name (although, I've heard other Afro-Cubans with that and similar names) and I've heard all sorts of wink-wink nudge-nudge racist confessions from people over the phone.

Like the woman who discovered her TiVo was made in Mexico and wanted to return it because "beaners" made it. Or the guy with a Tmobile phone that was having his calls routed incorrectly, to the number of a black guy, and he didn't want his callers thinking he was a drug dealer or something. I got at least 4 or 5 calls like that a day.

Good post. I'm going to spend all night trying to figure out your name, now!

A. J. Luxton said...

All sorts of things are floating around in my head after reading this post, and the comments. Well done.

Names shape who we are. I think all those years of not taking the easy, and wrong, out when confronted with discrimination "not intended for you" have had some part in shaping the awesome, respect-worthy person you are today.

And reading your narrative has reminded me of my own emotional reaction to discrimination. Nobody's ever thought I was anything but white, but there have been a couple of times when people freaked out on me and one or the other of my partners for kissing in public (the most *normal* subset of us comes off as a gay couple) and all of a sudden these total strangers had made this cascade of decisions about us, with no actual informational input. I don't mean getting awkward; I mean getting red in the face and shouting about "your sort of people". These incidents dehumanized the discriminators in my eyes. I saw them as if they were incapable of higher thought.


I don't think I really have a solid conclusion to this thought. Just an awareness that, as a white person with a white name, I'm not going to see Mr. Hyde most of the time, and that's kind of scary in light of the fact that he's often there.

Lisa Harney said...

I've had one experience like this, on usenet - I was in a bit of a disagreement, and the person who was disagreeing with me abandoned his course of rebuttal and asked me instead of I was "black," because the name I was using sounded black to him, as if this had any bearing on our discussion.

He made it clear that "black names" were a sign of stupidity to him, which is why he decided I had to be black. He also became very angry when called out on his racism.

I've done call center work, too, and used to be fairly good with certain kinds of accents - it's interesting to me that if I could manage a passable Southern US or English accent, that people would perk up, but when they hear a spanish accent (as someone here said) or a name they associate with black people, they turn into complete assholes.

The Girl Detective said...

Great post.

Cassie said...

My father wanted to name my brother Thomas Jefferson K----. Mom vetoed it, at least in part because that's a black name. It really sucks to realize, oh, yeah, racist parents, sucks to be everyone.

Daisy said...

I really wanted everyone to "project" a name into the blank. I thought long and hard about this post... and whenever I've tried to bring up the subject with white people (never black people--they know what kind of name it is), they argue over particulars and details--which I've noticed is one of the ways white people deflect criticisms of racism. They will say, well, I never thought your name was particularly *black*--just 1) southern, 2) different and 3) somewhat rare. (But that's just it, in the black community, it isn't considered any of those things.)

Rather than listen to me talk about my experiences, white people want to nitpick details and whether I am telling the truth in the first place.

So, I deliberately didn't give my name. I want to you to project one into the blank.

Also, I've noticed that in some areas (Oakland, New York), it's considered exclusively black. Here in the south, not so much, the lines have long been blurred. I wanted people from different areas to read it the same way, without fixating on the name itself.

Thank you everyone, for being so supportive and great! :)

Sylvia/M said...

This post is awesome, Daisy. So many experiences. Makes me think of how misguided Shakespeare was when he asked that question, "What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." But you have to wonder if the rose had a name you associated with bad smells, hard times, and inhospitable coloring -- would you even take time to sniff it for sweetness?

And let it be known that I think you are the fiercest Daisy ever, no matter what! :-p

Ravenmn said...

Great post, Daisy. I like that you left the name blank. It makes the reader think and also makes the point applicable to all kinds of ethnic names.

My real name is very Irish Catholic, which pretty much proves to most people that I can't possible be Jewish, although I am by birth. But I live in the Midwest, where everyone is assumed to be Lutheran.

Ravenhub used to do emergency housing services over the phone. One time he got a suburban woman who had been dumped by her career-minded husband for a younger model. She was a month shy of being homeless. Ravenhub suggested a couple of very low-income rentals closer to the city. She said, "I can't live next to blacks!"

Ravenhub was non-plussed for about a second. Then calmly asked, "Why don't you want to live near us?"

No, he's not black, but how would she know that?

belledame222 said...

Awesome post. and yeah, damn, that's...illuminating, isn't it. Humans. (as RE's wont to say).

Bianca Reagan said...

"Are you black? Give me someone white. I want someone who can find their ass with both hands, no offense."

No offense? I can find my . . . bum-bum with both hands.

Who are these people? And can I introduce my friends to them, because they don't believe people like this exist, even though I tell them they do.

CrackerLilo said...

I know your name's way better than the horrible racist attitudes your interlocutors' parents bequeathed to them, whatever it is.

Actually, I'm sure your name is just fine, in any color.

It was very nice of those guys to ring the asshat alarm for you before you ever dated them.

mjlayman said...

A.J. Luxton pointed me here. My mother said she made up my name -- Marilee -- and I believed her until the web turned up. All the Marilee's I've found who've answered are born within a 10-year range, and all our mothers thought they were making it up. Clearly there was some impetus.

It's bad enough having to spell and pronounce it all the time, I'm glad people don't treat me differently because of it.

Celine said...

Just want to share an anecdote here. I once knew a white woman who complained bitterly that her parents had given both her and her brother "black names". His name was Cleon, and okay, I've never known any other white guy named Cleon. But her name? Was Denise.

I've known white women named Denise since I was 5 years old. Yeah, sometimes you get "creative" spellings of it in the black community -- DeNeece, etc. -- but you can't tell that from just hearing it, and the way she spelled it was just like every other white Denise I've met. (It's the feminine form of Dennis, with a French overlay.) So I have no idea why she was so wound up over it.

Or rather, I did have some idea, and you've just confirmed it for me. Oy.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Daisy,

Sadly, as you've experienced, a rose by any other name would not smell as sweet. Labels are associated with classes, and classes with criteria, and criteria with judgement.

The human psyche is, in short, a hack job.

Great post.

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown
Free fiction, freshened weekly

Anonymous said...

I think some of the commenters have missed the point of Shakespeare's line about the rose. His point was that the name by which you call something doesn't alter its fundamental nature. In Daisy's case, she's a "rose" that was given a name that many people ignorantly interpret as "stinkflower." Despite this, she's every bit as sweet as she would have been had they interpreted her name as "heavenbloom."

Daisy, by any other name, is still Daisy.

Jaelithe said...

I am a (mostly) white woman as well, and I have name that is unusual enough that it seems to make people think "foreigner." I have had the same problem you've had in terms of potential employers discriminating me on the basis of my name.

Even sometimes when I DO show up in person, I face discrimination just because the cognitive dissonnance between my name and my voice/appearance disturbs people. Once, while I was in college, I applied for a job at the university library. The department secretary informed me via email that I was the most qualified candidate, based on my major and my resume, and called me in for an interview. But when I came in for the interview with the department supervisor, she became immediately and obviously flustered and uncomfortable when she saw me. "How did a girl like you get such an unpronounceable name? Were your parents immigrants or something?" she asked, and I answered, "No. My parents are Americans. My mother took my name out of a fiction book. She liked it." Then the interviewer said, "You parents must have been hippies! Look, I'll call you if we're interested."

And that was the end of the interview. It lasted all of 30 seconds.

I know it must be much, much harder, in many ways, to have one's skin color or accent discriminated against ON TOP OF people's ridiculous discriminatory attitudes regarding one's name.

But it's weird to me how sometimes just by defying someone's cultural expectations it seems like I get almost more of a backlash than I would have if I had fit the stereotype.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your article ... I am one gender, and I have a name that is used by both sexes, but more than half of the time is associated with people of the opposite gender as mine. Yes, a lot of what you wrote about was all too familiar, unfortunately...people shocked and surprised talking to you on the phone, etc. etc.

Daisy said...

Welcome to everyone coming over from MetaFilter, but hey, go easy on me, okay? I know I ain't JG fucking Ballard and my writing is not world-class. I stopped writing for almost a decade and only picked it up again (in an admittedly piecemeal fashion) on blogs and message boards. I've only been blogging since June of last year.

In short, ain't no reason to be MEAN. As a previous commenter opined: mean people suck.

Thanks.

MetaFilter: On having a black name

Anonymous said...

My first name (The same as a well know terrorist that I'll abbreviate as OBL) was hard to live with....

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say I surfed over from MF but I am not mean, I loved your piece. I also live in the South and am trying to figure out your name, but I'm glad you left it blank. Anyway, sorry some mean people suck, great, thought-provoking work.

Pink said...

I definitely understand where you are coming from. I was originally going to be named, "Mandy," but my father told my mother that was a "black name." The name I received, however, has been just as difficult. It is only 5 letters, but no one ever gets it right.

I, therefore, was very careful about naming my children; however, since marrying, I now have a super-common last name. Now my kids have super-common first names and the last name, and I worry about their future when it comes to identity theft/fraud.

Can't win for losin'.

Tom said...

People from Metafilter are pretty decent; and your post is very good, though it shocked me, and I've been living in the US for 25 years. Not that I don't believe it, but living in New York you don't see these things, and growing up in Canada, even less.

The "made-up name" thing does depress me, because it's not just characteristic of African-Americans, but a lower socio-economic group, which means I literally know no such people and instead know African-Americans with names like Irving and Doug.

So when you meet such a person, you can pretty well guarantee they've had the characteristically dreadful educations that people without money get here, that they'll have an accent that will identify them as such, and that they're basically marked for life as second-class citizens.

Thanks for posting this.

dalia said...

my real name is distinctly "anglo" and i can't tell you the number of times i've seen the look of disappointment/shock/surprise at interviews or some other "blind" meetings when people realize that i'm black. even speaking on the phone, i have no dialect or speech pattern that would indicate my race or even my ancestry (my parents are from the caribbean). mostly my name has been a sore point for me because it's BORING ("very literary" said my 12th grade english teacher). i've always hated it and i don't think it's indicative of my personality at all. the other grumble i have about it is that people keep adding an "A" to the ending, or hyphenating it, or by adding an "E" in the middle - making it funkier (in a bad way), or just leaving off the "E" at the end.

i have recently started using a more "upbeat" sounding moniker, and the response to it (particularly men, for some reason) has been so interesting. people actually remember it, and as a writer, it has actually got me more work. i'm flabbergasted by it. my mother hates the new name, i want to change it legally, and if it wasn't for the fact that she'd be completely hurt if i did so, it would have been a done deed already.

i'm so curious to what your name is, and for some reason "LaKeisha" comes to mind--and it's because i was watching a show the other day, and this beehived, mid-50s woman was named just that, and she was laughing at the "hassle" that came along with the name. my instant thought was "hey, that's a black girl's name!" and i loved her on-sight because she embraced it, said she thought it was beautiful, and loved it when black women came up to her and commented positively on it. she was very good natured about the whole thing.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I came over from MF as well. I didn't think your writing sucked and I enjoyed your piece. I'm British and we don't have such a pronounced racial divide as the US (despite what some of our 'enthusiastic' press would say) so I found it very interesting.

I'll be sure to come back and read more. I would love to know what your name is though!

Taith (Journey) said...

Daisy I truly loved reading your story. And plan to print and save it as something to make my future child read.

It says alot about prejudice.

Anonymous said...

Great piece.
I have had only one experience like yours.
I am from New Zealand and though we are not free of racism (like everywhere we have our own brand), it was in the US that I was asked if I was Jewish. The man in question then proceeded to tell me that my first name was Jewish. My name is from the Old Testament but never before or since have I been asked that question. Weird.

Language said...

I came from MeFi as well and liked your post a lot. Pay no attention to the snarkers -- they'll snark at anything!

Eddy Robinson said...

Hi Daisy,

What an interesting article. I've had a little of the same experience; I'm European (Irish, specifically), but I didn't realise until I moved to the US that my surname was more common in the black community than among whites. The fact that there is a well-known (now deceased) black football coach, Eddie Robinson, has tended to reinforce the perception.

I've heard several times from people that they expected me to be black on first meeting, having first encountered my name via email, letter or phone. It seemed odd to me, but since I came to the US as an adult I had never thought much about it. Reading your article gave me a whole new perspective on the issue.

Anonymous said...

My last name ends with a vowel and all 4 of my grandparents came to the U.S. from northern Italy. The "southern" most grandparent was from Padova.

So what I always get is: "you don't look Italian".

Jennifer said...

Heh, I assumed it was "Shaniqua," mainly because I remember an SNL character with that name.

This is the racial version of "A Boy Named Sue," isn't it? I love the ending of this story.

Lisa Harney said...

The name is less important than the story.

The story says so much. Does it matter what your name is if people treated you so horribly because of it? It's not the name itself, but that the name was labeled as belonging to a race - to black people - and thus you were seen as a black person, thus you were *treated* as a black person in many situations (over the phone, when people knew your name but not what you looked like).

Not that a lot of people in this thread are clamoring, but you know. ;)

Andrew said...

Mulva?

Anonymous said...

pointless story since you continue to hide behind a pseudonym instead of embracing your identity

lowell said...

^crap.. i didn't mean to forget to put my name. my name's lowell, nice to meet you!

Anonymous said...

Kind of like a boy named sue, but different.

sillygeuse said...

Daisy-
#1. I went to MF and the acronym is fitting. Wonder if the mean people have enough intellectual power to realize it.
#2. Why in the heck is it wrong to be proud to be a blonde haired blue eyed white woman? I'm not inferring that this was the meaning behind your post, but it did get me thinking about that again. Why shouldn't you be a proud white woman? It's great to be Oprah- the proud black woman, isn't it? Personally, I couldn't care less what race you are or if you wear purple contacts and a pink mohawk, much less if you have a "black " name. I like you and I like your posts. End of story.
#3. The nosy girl in me really really wants to know your first name. It's a funny thing, my curiousity. Never mind the brilliant post or the fantastic ancedotes, I am left wanting to know. That, my friend, was the most brilliant answer never to give. Your post won't easily be forgotten.

Bravo!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Daisy, for telling the story of your name. As you can see, your experience has touched many deeply.

For me, it wasn’t so much the name as the legacy. My parents were concentration camp survivors. The message I received growing up was, “Be proud that you are Jewish. But don’t ever tell anyone, because they will want to kill you.” Pretty confusing for a 5 year old. And to this day, I have trouble with my Jewish identity.

I remember walking back from school as a child, burying my head into my nape like a crow so that my profile could not be discerned. I liked everything about myself but my nose. If only I could fix that. A friend of the family recommended a cure. She told me that if I rubbed cold cream over the bump every night, the prominence would eventually disappear. My nose would be as even as the prairie. I performed this ritual religiously for over a year. Nothing changed. I remember being told by an acquaintance that I looked 105?% Jewish. His remark left me feeling anxious and distressed. In the past, I had passed for Italian, Greek, Arab. How could I protect myself if my identity was so apparent? Would I survive?
My mother survived because she was beautiful and also because she could easily have been mistaken for Norwegian with her delicate features. My father who gave me the gift of my nose, survived by instinct, sheer will and providence. I remember my mother being pleased that I was dating a Jewish boy who didn’t look Jewish. His name was Elliott.

I fell in love with my mother in law before I fell in love with my husband. She has told me how beautiful I am every day from day one. (This is not why I love her. To me she is Molly Ivans, Velvet Brown and Annie Dillard wrapped in one. She has Alzheimers. During her most recent annual neurological exam, Dr. Lux gave her the standard memory test. He articulated three words, then cautioned her that he would ask her to repeat them. When the moment came, she looked at him defiantly, and said, “I really couldn’t say. They weren’t very impressive.” ) She said I looked exotic. I didn’t want to dispel the myth. So for 5 years, I revealed the most intimate secrets about myself to my mate. But I kept my Jewish identity covert. I was actually scared that he would leave me if he found out.

The secret is out, at least to those I love and trust. But I still don’t offer this information
Casually.

I’m glad you didn’t reveal your name. Yours is a universal story.

Chris said...

Daisy, thank you for an outstanding piece of blogging. Your conscious decision to withhold your real name has had precisely the effect you intended: I couldn't stop reading!

orodemniades said...

Fantastic post. I wrote some post about 'black' names a couple of months ago and why I hated a lot of them and was, of course, slammed by a couple of black bloggers. The funny thing is, they refused to see the point that you make in this post - that people will make assumptions about you, about who you are, about your economic viability, about whether or not you're a trustworthy person, based on your name. Then class was brought up, yadda yadda yadda.

Interestingly, they also completely ignored that I said I hated certain naming trends in general, regardless of who used them, because I think they're stupid. I, like many people, are less inclined t take someone named Princess or God'Iss or Moxie Crimefighter seriously no matter what the color of their skin is.

I'm just sayin'.

Also, I have no idea what your name is(but like other posters I'm thinking something along the lines of La-something or Sha-something, and am too lazy to look up said Olympian due to a loooong night with the baby) but I am truly horrified at the things people have said to you. Beyond being racist, that crap is just plain rude.

Finally, I'd like to blogwhore this post if I may.

orodemniades said...

Forgot to mention that those names? They're all real.

Moxie Crimefighter...gah.

Seth said...

Thanks for sharing Daisy. That's horrible, but it does show the horror of humanity.

Came over from Cynical-C and am a blogger in Clemson. I'm sure I'll stop by again sometime.

ogre said...

What a marvelous story, Daisy.

My real name is androgynous (I'm male), and that's been fascinating. I ended up on the homecoming queen ballot (in a school not that large... someone was an idiot...). Could have been hell--but I campaigned, which really freaked people out. I've also had women assume I was female, on line because of my name, because I had written stuff about raising kids... and educating them. This despite references to my wife. We see and hear and believe... what we think we see and hear and know.

I used to work for the campus police while going to college. There was a black officer whose speech patterns did not hint at "black." One evening his wife (hers, however, did) called in, said he'd forgotten his meal, and asked me to let him know she'd bring it by. I did. When she arrived, I was dumbfounded to find that what I'd unconsciously assumed was just flat wrong. She was as white (speaking skin tone) as I was. Very enlightening moment.

My aunt is from Shanghai. Her English is actually good, though quite accented--except that the absurd gendered pronouns of English just make no sense to her (kind of like the gendered nouns of French and German drive English-speakers learning those languages in school find them insane, pointless and frustrating). It's been really interesting to notice the button it pushes when we talk about my sons. She uses "she" as the default third person pronoun. She doesn't object to correction, but slips back to it very quickly. Everyone is "she." I suspect it's easier to pronounce, for her. But having one's infant child referred to by the wrong pronoun in this culture just makes people crazy. We flag our kids with identifying colors to help. Make sure. Make really sure... no one mistakes your daughter for a boy, or your son for a girl. Which is... really peculiar, when you really think about it. Now the older boy is 6'4" and even so, when she says "she" referring to him... part of me wants to correct her.

Oliver Wendell Holmes (sr or jr? I forget) observed that we are all tattooed in our cradles with the beliefs of our tribes. It's hard--terribly hard--to even notice those tattoos, most of the time, and it's not easy to remove them.

Thank you so much for this. I know a couple people who need to see it.

Occula said...

Daisy, I thought this post was extremely interesting and enlightening - not always in a positive way, of course, because of people's reactions to meeting you, but very interesting nevertheless.

I have always hated my real first name. It was probably at the tail end of its short 'coolness' life when I was given it and now just strikes me as old-fashioned. Old-fashioned names are very popular among small children now, but I'm pushing 40, and I'm the only 'mabel,' 'gertrude,' 'opal,' 'madge' equivalent in a sea of lovely Lisas and Melissas. Maybe I'm getting more sensitive to having a geezer name as I age - it's bad enough as it is!

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say thanks for sharing that. I believe your name HAS helped you. Don't you wish all of the racist ignoramuses you have encountered had to go through the same thought processes and questions of identity as you have? I'm mixed (black/white) but my name passes for 'white;' I have also surprised many when showing up for an interview or other first meeting. While I hate to see racism affect and hinder anyone at all, know that you are better person because you have been forced to develop more insight into race than most born into 'white privelege' do.

Ceniza said...

Also from MF. Loved the story, not only because it rings true to me but because it is an universal story.

I have a not very common Spanish name which automatically limits your interaction with the labour force. (Bottom of the pile if you may). We have a saying that although crude might reveal something. You have to be twice as good as the white "man" to be paid like a black "man".

Lastly universal, because in Spanish we do have the equivalent of Shinequa or Lakesha and we ourselves will discrimate against them based on a perception of social status. Discrimination is very much a part of all of our lives, from race, to gender, to religion. Perhaps we should start the change at home and not look for people outside our home to recognize something beyond optics.

I sometimes go by Bob when people can't pronounce my name. I make it a joke and then give them a made up name like Mark or Daisy.

Great post

Sassywho said...

Daisy, sorry it took me so long to comment on this post but what a great analysis. thanks for writing this.

Dave Dubya said...

Daisy, This was most moving and deeply touching. I believe there's an excellent screenplay for an inportant movie in your story.

Your's is a vital message towards our country's real "progress" in racial understanding.

My mother was of Native American ancestry and my father was a white jazz musician from a very northern part of the country. When idiots would make racist remarks about blacks and their music, he would tell them, "Hey, I could be part black, you know".

That would shut them up.

katie said...

Really interesting post.

This is addressed to the user from the UK: racism IS a real problem in the UK. Race riots, racial discrimination, and basic prejudice - all of these have happened in Britain. It's just easier to ignore because Britain is still more than 90% white (very ethnically diverse cities, then swaths of land where pretty much everybody is white). I've lived in England for the last year, and even though I'm in a university town, a typical liberal enclave, I've encountered unsubtle racial prejudice and anti-Semitism coupled with the attitude that racism is an "American problem" or "American obsession." Racism exists within American AND British society, and to pretend otherwise is ridiculous. This blog post is telling an American story about racism, but it's only in England that I was ever called a chink.

Princess Pointful said...

Great post. I feel like sending it around to everyone who claims that "discrimination isn't a problem in North American anymore".

China Blue said...

This was such a great post. Once in a while, something like this comes along and makes you stop in your tracks.

First, let me echo the last poster: racism in the UK exists. Fact. I've seen the way people look at me when I turn up for an interview and realise I'm black; I have a quintessentially English name and a posh accent to match. In fact, I'm a black East Londoner of Jamaican descent. I was never privately educated, but sound like I am.

Oddly, black people are more likely to react to this than white. I get asked if I went to university (none that offer elocution lessons, and yes I did, but dropped out twice), and told I sound like a middle-aged white woman from the Home Counties. My brother teases me and calls me Hermione (as in Harry Potter).

So I stick out like a sore thumb wherever I go because I 'sound white'.

Anyway, I'm sorry you've had to go through such blatantly nasty things to appreciate what POC go through. That's one positive thing, I suppose. I wish all white people could experience that, and understand the prejudice - and privilege - they possess.

Thanks again for such an eye-opening post.

Anonymous said...

Hey Daisy -- another new fan from MetaFilter. I'm in sort of the opposite situation; my given name is bestowed pretty widely across all races I've noticed (and over multiple decades), but my last name leaves a lot of folk in suspense -- it's not very common, but there are two famous folk who carry it, one white one black. Never ceases to amaze me what some folks will blurt out when I don't turn up in the configuration they were expecting...

mintspy said...

Johnny Cash - "Boy named Sue". youtube it! :-)

Wry Exchange said...

What a wonderful post. I linked to it pointing my readers to read your story. Just wonderful.

Anonymous said...

My last name is Williams, a very common black name in the US, especially in the inner city I work in. When I lived in England, no one ever batted an eyelash, but in America, some people have this assumption that I'll be black based on my last name. How weird is that? But, because I live in the midatlantic states, I've only ever gotten confused stares, never out and out racist remarks.

annejumps said...

My last name is Hispanic, not due to my ethnicity (I'm English and German in that respect) but to my stepgrandfather adopting my father, and while I haven't experienced blatant discrimination that I'm aware of (outside of , I have had people express surprise when they meet me, or surprise at my last name. Oddly, although I'd assume my European, Biblical first name wouldn't go with my last name, I've found quite a few other women with my same name in Google searches.

I am not Star Jones said...

I love this story and I wish everyone who can read would read it and actually think about the things they believe about people.

Damn, America is
one big hairball of crazy, ain't it?

Allison said...

@ogre: "This despite references to my wife. We see and hear and believe... what we think we see and hear and know."

Heh. Your heterosexism is (ironically) showing.

air-and-angels said...

That was a thoroughly interesting story - thank you for telling it. It reminded me of an experience I had a few years ago. For background's sake, I'm a New Zealander of white British ancestry (what we call Pakeha), and a few years ago I was training to become a high school teacher. One of my practicum assignments was to be at a low-decile school with a mainly Maori and Polynesian roll. I'd grown up in white suburbia, so I was pretty nervous about venturing out of my comfort zone, hoping I wouldn't make social gaffes and that frankly, the kids wouldn't be too scary. I was puzzled when I was informed that my mentor teacher had the first name 'Shaquelle.' My first thought was 'That sounds like a black American woman's name' closely followed by 'hell, it could be a black American MAN's name, look at Shaquille O'Neal.' I started to wonder how a black American came to be a teacher at a New Zealand high school. Every teacher I'd met until then had been some variation of European, Asian or Polynesian. Did the Maori and Polynesian students look up to him or her as they looked up to American hip-hop stars? Was it going to be uncomfortable or weird communicating with her because she was doubly foreign to me, not just American but black too? (There are very, very few black people in New Zealand and most of them arrived recently as refugees from troubled countries like Somalia, so the stereotypes about them are different than those about African Americans.) I was building all these worries around her name and the image it evoked, and then she arrived and was a blonde Pakeha woman with a strong Kiwi accent. I was left to wonder how she happened to have a name like Shaquelle (I was, at least, too polite to ask such an awkward question). It was a peculiar experience all round.

lilacsigil said...

This is really fascinating - in Australia, "made-up" names are a class marker, rather than a racial marker, but I suspect there is a good deal of overlap.

Robin said...

Thank you for sharing this. I'm sort of on the other side of things - my mother is of First Nations heritage and wanted to give me a name reflecting that when I was born. My white father overrode her and chose a 'white' equivalent of the same name so that I wouldn't undergo the same discrimination you have. I've always felt a little guilty because while it turns out my mother's choice wouldn't have suited me for a whole mess of reasons, and my father's choice suits me much better, the latter was chosen for all the wrong reasons.

Kristina said...

As someone mentioned before. "made-up" names in australia is more considered representational of class.

I've never personally thought of someone as having a name like that as being stupid or incompetent but I have to admit I have thought the parents must be a little insane or just couldn't spell?

Even so, I do kind of understand the unusual name thing as when I was going up Kristina was not a common spelling for the name except in european countries so I'm constantly mistaken for katrina, christina, katherine. My catchphrase is 'kristina with a K' because people still don't seem to get it even though there is way more Kristina's then there used to be.
I applaud the way you've handled yourself with so much dignity because so many people just have no idea how stupid they appear by judging you.

Kim said...

As a male with what has become a distinctly female name, I can appreciate some of what you describe. However in only a few cases was there as frank sexism as the racism which you experienced. Still there were a lot of suprised voices on the other end of the telephone calls from people asking "is Kim there?" when I replied, "This is he."

I admit in days gone by when I used to post for computer help to news groups and signed my posts Kim, I was surprised at how much help I got. This also accounted for a large proportion of surprised men on the other end. To their credit, they still gave me the computer help that they had promised. I learned a lot about how peculiar men can be.

Your post really confronted me with a racism that I have never encountered and it was profoundly depressing. I do not like to think that they are people who live their lives with the sort of hate that you describe. It did make me think of stereotypes that I see in my own daily life and gave me pause. Thanks for writing your piece.

morin said...

Would you mind if I translated this into Hebrew and posted it on my blog? With due credit, of course.
Thanks,
Ruthi

BAMBOO BLITZ said...

Daisy, I really "felt" this post of yours. Thanks for sharing your story. You've provided a very valuable perpective on race, identiy, and prejudice to your readers...

Daisy said...

Ruthi, that is thrilling! I would love that! :)

Everyone has been so wonderful and insightful in these comments, I'm rather choked up. After my first day of sobbing over the Simons (see Friday post), I now feel like lots of folks really understand what I was saying. (((Love and kisses to you all!))))

PS: And "I am not Star Jones"--is maybe the best screen name of all time!

Mrs. Who said...

Enjoyed this post...I can relate a little bit...except it wasn't my first name, it was my last name that was 'black'. We were the only 'white' family in my hometown with our surname...the rest were black. One man even called my dad to invite him to the '_______' family reunion. My dad said he'd be delighted, except that he might be considered the 'white' sheep of the family. The caller was at first surprised and then apologetic (he'd just been going down the names in the phone book). My dad told him there was nothing to apologize for. When I was substituting, I ran into several students with the same surname...and they viewed me with misgiving because I was a white person with a black name. Made subbing very interesting.

Anonymous said...

What does it say about me that I didn't think of race, but did think that "Daisy" must be about 80 years old?

That I watch too many movies? (Driving Miss Daisy)

NancyP

Anonymous said...

I've always thought I had what is considered a "black" name but never really thought much about it. My parents were going to give me a very so called "white" name like Danielle or Elizabeth but instead decided that they wanted to give me a name that they felt better represented my culture. But it's been no big deal to me growing up.

That was, until I actually grew up and became an adult. I once had an interview with a guy that owned a small company. I think he kept trying to hint around and find out if I was black. He kept going on and on about my name. I speak standard English and where I lived gave no indication of my background. When I saw him at the restaurant (it was a meet and greet kind of interview) with his assistant, his face literally fell and he was obviously very disappointed.

He was very insulting and said things like "You weren't what I expected. I mean wow, you sound so cultured on the phone." He then proceeded to tell me that "Whoever I work with has to be trustworthy; I have lots of delicate information available and I have to be comfortable with them." Translation: "Look, I wasn't sure whether or not you were a Black woman. Now that I know, I'm filled with all kinds of stereotypical images of you as a thief, a slacker and a generally unproductive individual. I don't want to work with you." I went through the niceties and completed the meal but I was so angry the entire time.

I was obviously the most experienced person he'd come across, but he had just reduced my entire lifetime into just a one-dimensional character. So, I understand how you may have felt all these years Daisy.

Everybody's All-American Girl said...

Thank you for this story, Daisy-who's-not-Daisy.

My name consists of a white girl's first name (I was named after a popular '60's white all-American sunshiny girl pop singer) with a Mexican surname. I didn't realize that people thought it unusual until I got older and people began to ask if my surname was my married name. The unspoken question always seemed to be why a nice, well-spoken, highly educated, (seemingly) white woman would choose to marry a Mexican. (Even after I married a white guy, I kept my Mexican name. I like to challenge others' preconceptions.)

Sarah J said...

What a lovely story. Well, not lovely because of all the assholes in it, but lovely because of the conclusions and the strength you drew from it.

thanks.

Model Minority said...

"Thats a n*gger name",
is such a great add on to the "can we say the word n*gga in hip hop conversation.

Job said...

I suspect I kind of have the opposite - I'm half Chinese, half Dutch. My name however is "fully" Dutch, and I get the impression that people who know my name before they see my face don't notice I'm part Asian as quickly as people who see me before they know my name.

Anonymous said...

when white people say the word "ethnic," and it's usually white people who use the word, it's an inaccurate way of saying "non-white"

look it up. whites are ethnics too! but they never use it to mean whites! it's part of the white shame which gave birth to political correctness which is only enforced by whites.

Evel said...

Racist often feel more comfortable being so when they are not 'face-to-face'

I worked in a call center as well, this was my most memorable experience with 'what's in a name'

'Rebecca' said...

Wonderful post! I came in through the Jezebel.com article on your blog: http://jezebel.com/384267/what-if-my-parents-had-named-me-tawana

Thank you for writing this story - it was interesting and thought provoking.

From someone who was given an insanely hippie name and is always confused with being a "flakey bomb throwing extreme leftie" or "a stripper from the 70's" when people read my full name in print or hear it announced in classes every year - the judgements are always set against me before they even meet me. I can't even imagine the racism aspect of a name - it's criminal people can still be so insipidly racist whilst claiming to be anything but.

(Oh and I'm not hating on liberals - I am middle of the road politically and socially more liberal - but I don't like being assumed to be a pothead or a militant hippie. If there was any justice I would have a 1920's flapper name with a Parisian sound)!

;)

'Rebecca' said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention, my full name is also the same as a 1980's porn star!

Quelle Charmeuse!!!

EYE - EE- SHA??? said...

it used to be that when feriners migrated to 'merica they used to be allowed to legally change their names in order to assimilate more easily into the community. The name change was part of the citizenship ceremony. Now, it is not offered. The officer made a very strong, ugly point of keeping my husband Mo's name EXACTLY as it showed on his (badly) translated birth certificate. It didn't matter that the bad transliteration was not exactly the correct way to write it. It was not up for discussion with the cold blooded immigration officer.

I understand from this that they want all the identity checks in the world to not miss him in the profiling.

And there is more, I wasn't allowed to change my US passport to reflect my new name Aisha, even though my soc. sec. card and drivers license have been changed. They gave me a legal AKA in the back page of my passport, instead, obviously (to me) because that's what must be done now that I'm a criminal fundamentalist islamic terrorist.

I imagine everyone in my family who for employment or security related reasons now has to give full disclosure about all their family members are having lots of fun with this, too.

It has been the strangest thing in my life to discover that I'm no longer a white american woman, but a feriner... everyone tells me "Your english is really good!!!"

Just exercise your well-lauded 'merican right to freedom of religion by putting a scarf on your head, wearing long sleeves and a skirt for a few days and see what I'm saying.

sh eeeee eeee it!

Tashina Chivonne said...

Amazing. And spot on with how I feel.

My first name came from a movie called Windwalker, about Cheyenne Indians (I'm a quarter Native American). My second name came from a soap opera that my mother loved, except she spelled it wrong. It should be "Siobhan," like the Irish spelling (and I'm part Irish).

Needless to say, I grew up wanting my name to be Amy, because there were 4 Amys in my class, and I just wanted to be like everyone else. I lived in a tiny Southern town until I was 9, so I experienced a lot of what you talked about, especially re: the n-word.

More recently, I moved to a new city and was applying for jobs. I decided to bite the bullet and apply for some jobs online. One was a high-end women's boutique, and when I came in for an interview, both of the girls working stopped dead in their tracks upon finding out that I was the same person that sent in her resume. Thanks to my whiteness, I got the job.

Daisy said...

Anonymous: when white people say the word "ethnic," and it's usually white people who use the word, it's an inaccurate way of saying "non-white"

look it up. whites are ethnics too! but they never use it to mean whites!


You could be right, but I assure you, I used the term to mean Russian, German, Jewish, Slavic, Italian, Greek, Bulgarian immigrant names, common in the small working class town I lived in.

There were also Mexicans, Cubans and Chinese, but their names were actually easier to decipher than some of the Slavic names which seemed to have no vowels at all.

Anonymous said...

Your story really resonated with me. I'm a pale-skinned blue-eyed white of Irish ancestry with light brown curly hair. I can't tell you how many people (including professional hair stylists) have asked me if I'm African-American. Because I have curly hair.

Chocoholic said...

I found this site and I'm just shocked at the things people would say to you! I live in northwest Indiana, the next county over from Gary. Believe me, I know racism still exists. A black family recently left our town because of the ignorance and racism white people still have here however, I don't understand racism and I just don't understand what would make people think it's okay to make comments like that to you or about you when they hear you name. I still haven't figured out what it could be...maybe if I look up SNL skits I can figure it out. Your story was very good and I hope it makes people realize they can't judge people by their name or skin.

Eric Paul said...

Daisy,

I can't imagine that you are actually reading all of these 86 comments, but I wanted to tell you that I loved reading your blog and I think that your perspective is not only refreshing but also incredibly interesting.

Great, and sad social commentary. Thank you so much for sharing

scottishlass said...

I'm from Germany and have a Gaelic first name due to a Sottish greatgrandmother. Nowadays, that is not a problem anymore, but having been born back in the sixties it was. Unfortunately, my name also is similar to a place name in the area I live and the confusion, misspelling and misspronounciation is perfect. So on a different yet similar level I know exactly how you feel. The accusation, the misinformation, the slight racism (or in my case social-racism).
In my passport my first name is hyphenated with a typical German name which I have always tried to omid when I introduce myself, as it is the most commonly used name for a female of my generation. But by doing that and introducing myself with my *other* name, I have either been getting confused looks and misspellings of my name or (since the 1990s) have been accused of using an internet nickname. The way I see it, ppl should get off their high horses ... what's in a name? Whether you are black, yellow, red, white or green, we are all humans. We have already so many problems in this world, and yet ppl have to start discriminating others because of their names ... It's a crazy world we live in :s

Renee said...

This is one of the best commentaries I have seen online in a long time. I am a black woman with a French name. When I would say my name and talk to people they would later remark that I didn't "sound" black. That always got on my nerves. Obviously they equate black to stupid. My name has opened doors for interviews until the interviewer realized that they had called a black woman. There is much to be said in name...

qtilla said...

I am a white-looking (multi-ethnic) person with a "black name" too. My father did not want me to have a "white name" so I don't.

I am always getting double takes. I also happen to go to a predominantly African American church.

In my privileged predominantly white college, I was always assigned "students of color" for my prospective student hosting gigs. Once a blond haired, blue eyed, black-named prospective student arrived and we stood chatting together waiting for several minutes before we realized that we were waiting for each other.

I think that sometimes I am frustrated with being a multi-ethnic person with an ethnic name and Caucasian features. It isn't just strangers who find me confusing; I sometimes can't identify with any perspective really. As a child I felt a bit like Gonzo.

Heather said...

I used to date a guy with a "black" name. He was about as white as you can get, but when I mentioned his name in passing, I'd get uncomfortable silences, or occasionally people would outright ask me what it's like to be in an interracial relationship (or, the less tactful question about certain 'size' rumors).

I always found it tactless and rude, but amusing. I never even considered the implications his name could have when applying for jobs, etc.

Very insightful post.

Anonymous said...

I have had a similar experience to those Daisy recounted, but in reverse. I am Jewish, and I have a biblical name which is used by people of varying backgrounds, not the most common but not unheard of either. I use my husband's surname which is dirt common and again used by people with a wide variety of backgrounds. Years ago when I was starting my career, I was being interviewed for a position by someone from one of the major California state universities. I thought the interview was going pretty well, when suddenly the guy said, "You are black, aren't you?" and I said "Um, no," whereupon he simply hung up.

While I am 100% Ashkenazic Jew, I do not fit the appearance stereotype. I have extraordinarily fair skin, the tiniest, straightest nose possible (in fact I spent my childhood pulling at it to make it "nice" like the other noses in my family), and pale blue-gray eyes. I have been taken for Irish, Polish, Dutch, Austrian, German, and Estonian, and as such I have been involuntarily privy to numerous anti-Semitic remarks made by people who assume that I will find these sentiments congenial. This was particularly a problem when I lived in Austria--and the Salzburg paper would print headlines about the "Jewish" problem. How all the dead Austrian Jews could be such a problem I do not know. I do know I didn't want to hear about it to my face and was dismayed that anti-Semitism was still alive and well in a country which ought to know better by now.

Anonymous said...

i have the same exact experience, except my name is a hybrid of two. it just seems like i have a common "afro american" prefix attached to a "white" name. it irritates me to no end that people seem genuinely surprised that it is, indeed, my given name. i often just tell them some random name to prevent the bullshit. i have a very varied heritage (i dont use racial terms because they arent biological) and i am very offended to know that certain names are only reserved for certain people. they can kiss my ass.

Rosa said...

Hattie? Pookie? I've been wondering for days. A fabulous blog entry, thanks for sharing it.

My married last name is Spanish, or I should say Latino. People think I'm Latina, although I'm not, my background is Irish/English and nobody believed me on that either. Just because I have dark eyes and hair, everyone pegs me as Italian or Spanish.

Maegan la Mala said...

I'm just finally getting to read this Daisy and I really enjoyed it.

As a Latina with a "white" first and middle name and light skin, green eyes, my last name has always thrown people off. Before I got political I would hide behind my white first and middle name, saying my Latin last name was really Spanish (European).

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to thank you for writing this. As a Black woman I am unfortunately not surprised at the hideously racist things people have said and done because of your name, but I am delighted at the strength you've drawn from the experiences and what you've learned from them, and how cogently you've shared them with us.

Rizu_chan said...

OMG what an eye-opener. Thank you for writing this!

Anonymous said...

This really affected me intensely. The post, the comments, all of it.
I'm passing it around as far and wide as I can.

turtle said...

THIS is a great post.

Thanks :]

Anonymous said...

Such an interesting piece, and important I think that you share it because people too often assume not only that they know who we are and everything about us based on what race we appear to be but, in your case, even the race we "sound like" (voice or name). I have a name that is unisex but more feminine in the US...and also is common in balck and white communities, though some others have it. More interestingly though, people commonly mistake my ancestry and always seem to ask me the "what are you" question...sooner than later. I once had a man at a club ask me that before asking my name (damn). At any rate, people seem perplexed and I find that I too experience a unique insight stemming from having been treated in various ways depending on what race or ethnicity people perceived me to be.

Thanks for being candid about your experiences....is your name Anitra? jk

peace

Amber said...

This is an interesting post, Daisy. And damn, 100 comments! I *so* do not have time to read through all of them, but I hope it didn't devolve into threadjacking. :\

Anyway, very interesting post. It started me thinking about some of this stuff as related to my name, that I hadn't thought about in more than passing in a long time. Growing up, I had a "black" middle name and a "Hispanic" last name. ("Rhea" is my married name, even though I'm divorced now... yeah, complicated, I know.) I never really thought about it, but once I got older, I looked back on certain situations and wondered what preconceived notions people might've been harboring about me based on my name alone. Of course I have no way of knowing, but it's interesting to wonder.

secretbutterfly said...

I really enjoyed reading this, Daisy. I have to say that in some cases I've been guilty of assuming your name (I googled SNL skits after I read the post cause hell, I was curious) belonged to some one African American. And in those cases it was mainly when I worked at a call center for a market research company and we needed to fill a quota the client had asked for x amount of people of a certain race...and the person had a name like yours but hadn't checked what their race was. Desperate and lame, but true. That, even with the fact that I actually know a girl named Tomica whom I'm sure has had similar experiences to yours. (Especially w/ being a fair-skinned redhead...)
Regardless, I agree w/ the points you made and it's a sad thing that anyone is treated the way you were. Also, disturbing that people still say the n-word and apparently still have the wtf-assumption that black people aren't as educated.
This was very thought-provoking. Thank you. :-)

bitchphd said...

Re. the UK: I know a white British woman who married an Arabic man ("black," in the UK). She looks about as stereotypically middle-aged, middle-class British as you can get.

Once while accompanying her to the passport office to renew her passport, a man who was waiting (as we all were) made some racist remark, something like how blacks got too much preferential treatment or somesuch, and she smiled and said, "in that case, do you think they'll let me go to the front of the line? My surname's ____." He about died.

DiosaNegra1967 said...

Enjoyed the post. I surfed on over from Angry Black Woman....

I have an interesting first name. In fact, when most people hear it, they usually ask if my mother was angry at my father! Not to mention, it has a rather violent definition.

allalonenow said...

Daisy, can appreciate what you have gone through. My wife had to endure having the name "Toyanne" for her entire life. The looks people would get on their faces, the way they would react to it, caused her all kinds of grief.

Loved reading it.

rob1 said...

Oh man- this reminds me of college- me and a friend signed up to buy Christmas presents and go to a party for kids in need. We got the name of the little girl we were assigned to, and it sounded maybe black. Had never heard the name before- but I was thinking there was a good chance it was a black name. And she wanted a doll.

My buddy and I debated forever- should we get her a white doll or a black doll? I think we ended up getting one of each. And the little girl ended up being white. We were glad we went with one of each anyway.

Wish the kid had asked for a car or something- would have saved much angsting over how not to hurt her feelings!

Michelle Smiles said...

I know racism is unfortunately alive and well but I had no idea people would be so blatantly ignorant. I'm appalled! I guess I always assume that racism is more of a silent thing acted upon by internal assumptions...I had no idea people would say such horrible things out loud where others could hear their ignorance.

Thanks for the post. Interesting.

Mjit said...

I made up a nickname for myself based on my "given" initials. Then I legally changed my name to it. My first name is Very Unique, and my lastname is made of common english words. I check all the appropriate demographic boxen on the job apps, and I get many calls that start with someone stumbling over my first name, instead of skipping to Mrs. (lastname).

I wouldn't be surprised that my job apps are getting passed over because the person reviewing applications can't parse my first name.

Victoria Marinelli said...

Heh. I know you've been overwhelmed by the attention this post has received, so should I apologize for having just given it another digg? :)

Very wonderful post, in any event. The peculiarities of our circumstances over which we have no control (relative to other factors in which we have proportionally more privilege and choice) can be such illuminating windows into the cultural condition. I can relate on numerous (profound and yet also indirect) levels.

And you're a lovely writer.

ataniell93 said...

I have a Japanese first name and a very common British or American last name. People who don't know me always hear a similar-sounding British or American first name when I say my name, which causes tons of confusion when things I've ordered arrive at the office with a name on them, particularly as the name they hear actually is the name of someone else who works here.

This is beyond annoying. I can spell my name for callers, and they repeat it back to me as the other name. It's like they literally can't hear that there is no "e" in my first name, that it is not some variant of Kerry or Carrie, but rather a completely different name in another language. The only way to get people who hear my name to spell it right is to say "My name is Japanese. I'm going to spell it for you." If I don't tell them that, they write down "Kerry" or "Carrie" or some version of that name.

The only time in my life in which people on the phone or to whom I'd just been introduced actually heard my real first name when I said it was during the three years I was married to my Chinese ex. When my first name is paired with a Chinese last name, people hear and spell it correctly with no problems. However, at that time in my life, whenever I was sitting in a waiting room, and someone called my name, I would stand up, and the receptionist would ignore me and KEEP CALLING MY NAME until I walked up to her and said, "Hi, that's me, you're calling my name." Then she would be shocked, because I am mostly white, and definitely not Chinese or Japanese. I so relate to every word of this post.

Joseph said...

I sound femile on the phones and work in a call center. I say my name is Jo(e). I have been hit on. I have had women tell me it's nice to talk to a female that knows what they are doing. I have had females tell me they've never talking to a female tech.

I have had both genders apoliligize when they slip and call me sir. I have confused the ____ out of people who, when told that Jo(e) is short for Joseph, can not figure out why someone named a girl Joseph. It makes the job interesting.

Nwhepcat said...

I'm here via Live Journal. Wonderful post, well written and interesting.

This is fascinating, though it's so depressing to realize that people are so bald-faced rude and stupid. The comments about reactions to the accent of a customer service rep reminds me of the time I was in a gathering with a lot of doctors and lawyers, at one of those baseball fantasy camps. One of the staffers, a minor league coach (former major league player) had a perfect grasp of English, though he had a very pronounced Cuban accent. I had a conversation with him about his heart transplant because I had a friend on the transplant list at that time, and later I said to a couple of the camp participants, "Hey, wow, did you know L had a heart transplant?" And one of them said, "Oh, he probably meant 'bypass,' his English isn't that good." That stunned me that educated people couldn't tell the difference between an accent and a command of actual syntax. (And that they'd think someone who had one of those procedures couldn't tell the difference between the two.)

frumiousb said...

I had a roommate in grad school who had the same kind of name-- her mother didn't make the name up, but just thought that it was a pretty name. She had many similar stories and experiences-- in college her roommate confessed to her that before they met her mother had urged her to request a transfer "if she didn't want her things stolen" once they had seen her name.

Farah said...

Damn fine post (and well written by the way).

My name goes the other way: I'm a Jewish woman with a Muslim first name. In the context in which I teach, it creates space for my often Muslim students to consider me.

As the name becomes more commonly known as a Muslim name I wonder if I will start to experience some of this?

Gilmoure said...

Hi Daisy,

Came over here via an LJ post by Supergee.

Epicurious is a black name? Who knew?

I do call center work for a living and have picked up the trick of reflecting back a hint of the customer's accent. For some reason, this seems to relax folk and they then treat you like a human being. Seems like people are still pretty tribal and fear anyone from the other side of the hill. Weird!

Yinka Wills said...

Hi there *waves*. Came her via a Livejournal entry in Lacey McBain's Friends page.
Im a Black Brit with an English name (when Im offline)and a middle class accent. Over the phone I've had enlightening conversations with people who thought I was white and would join them in cosy racism.
I'm a lawyer and sit on some boards/panels for public bodies, and oh, the hilarity when i walk into a room and the executive who chatted to me so aimiably on the phone setting up a Panel for me to Chair gets a look at me!
On one occasion, the executive was so horrified to see a black woman, she tried to take over the function of Chair ever time I opened my mouth. Putting her in her place firmly was a hoot.

I've had people compliment me on how well I speak English (thanks! Its my first language!) Not so long ago I was on a bus in a white suburb, and a woman was so shocked to see me reading a law book, she had to announce that I was a 'clever girl'. I laughed like a drain and said a) I was 50, so it was a damn long time since anyone had ever thought I was that young, so I'd take it as a compliment, and b)I'd been a lawyer for over 2 decades and c) was lecturing university students and brushing up on EU law for it. Was her face red!
So I sympathise, and empathise.

As for the person who tried to allege that Britain doesnt have the kind of race problem the US does...Pu-lease!
We've had hysterical newspaper headlines, radio phone-ins, tv programmes etc etc on the 'threat to British culture by multiculturalism' paranoia about Islam, fears of Black crime, how immigration is out of control blah blah, as a daily thing for the last 3 years. And Blacks and Asians only make up 7% of the population!

debtfreeme said...

Very interesting. Thanks for sharing. It is very sad that racism is very much alive and well. When will it ever stop?

Anonymous said...

I reeally enjoyed reading your story and I actually read ALL of the comments posted. I am surprised that other people are suprised. The thing I never really understood about people's beef with made up names is that ALL names were made up at one point. My name is pretty black sounding I am OK with that. The only reason it bothers me when people say it wrong is because it's pronounced just the way it is spelled, Sherita (Shuh-rita). EASY!!! Can't you read??? Sometimes I think people purposely act like it is so hard to say the name as a way of passive-aggressively making fun of the name. I really don't care that me name is not a "resume name" because my philosophy has always been that if someone does not want to hire me because of my name, then that is not a place where I want to work anyway. If they won't hire me because of my name, then they probably wouldn't have hired me at the interview when they saw my face. I gave my daughter a made up name because I think it is beautiful and very fitting of her personality and I personally could not care less what anyone else thinks of it. There is always something about you that someone can judge.
Oh, and I have NO IDEA what your name could be. Is it Esther or Ida? Shirley? When will you tell?

Anonymous said...

I am grew up in a mostly black neighborhood, and I'm a nappy-headed 1/4 jew. I have a name that most white people use a nick-name for, and most black people use it as is. When I was a kid I would hear all kinds of crazy stuff like this too, but about white people, mostly from my friends parents or other adults. When they found out I was white they ALWAYS said "well, you're pretty cool for a white kid"!!! And I got called "hi-yella" more than a few times a month. None of it ever bothered me, and I never felt like imitating a black person, in action or accent, like the fools one sees on tv.

Anonymous said...

auw man i would have expected all those hilbillies to know daisy from dukes of hazard:(

French Frenchname said...

I have an ueber-French first name, but I have been asked twice if it was Arabic while abroad (I don't look Arabic). I was puzzled until I finally realized it was the French guttural R that sounded Arabic to unaccustomed ears.

I find it amusing that Maurice, Jerome or Andre should sound black to American ears, because they sound very white middle class to me. Maurice is typically how your average white grandfather or great-grandfather would have been called, since it was most popular in the late 19th-early 20th century (think Maurice Utrillo, Maurice Thorez or Maurice Ravel).

Other than that, I've been to school with a black guy called Boris. It tended to surprise people.

Anonymous said...

I don't think there is any certain racial distinction between names, but I question the intelligence of people's parents when the parents make up a stupid name.

My mother used to work in a hospital where, I KID YOU NOT, some idiot tried to name her child Female (fuh-mal-AY). When asked why, she said "'Cause that's what'er nametag says," referring to the gender-identifying wristband.

Also, too many people from the 'hood' think a name should either be a misspelled normal name, a normal name with several "De", "Qu", or "ia" sounds, or a name that sounds so African that Africans say "DAMN! That's a stupid name!"

It's not racism, some people just have stupid names. Now, I doubt your name is along the lines of "Dequashiafame," but if it were, I'd understand the prejudice.

Melissa said...

Daisy,

I completely understand you, however in a different way. I am a black female, who sounds very white (nature - my community was pure white), however when people SEE me, it confuses the hell out them. I always GOT the interview, but afterwards, it was downhill from there. I confused every single one of my friends parents growing up, when I showed up to the birthday party, they didn't know it could really be me, "because you sound.." so white.

It's a terrible world, and no matter what people say, things may never change.

Laurel said...

My best friend is black, but she's not quite the what-people-perceive-as "average" black-american. Her Trini mom and Nigerian dad raised her strictly and she didn't fall into the common idea of what a black-american is. My dad was raised in Kentucky and hadn't ever REALLY conversed with a black person that seemed remotely interested in NOT acting how the mass media generally displays them. When he first met her, he was giving us a ride somewhere and we had a long intelligent conversation between me, her, my dad and also her other friend, who also happens to be the "not average" black. When they got out of the car, the first words out of his mouth was. "Wow! I can't believe they're so smart!" I've forgiven him since, but I would think by the time you reach 60, you'd realize that skin color does not affect brain capacity and all that good stuff.

Essays2write said...

Brava, Daisy!

Being a Black girl with a Hispanic name and a "White" dialect, I too am an "odd rose".

Mitsu said...

Interesting story. I'm mixed race, and I live in Canada, so I don't have to deal with such racism, but I do get comments from time to time. My last name is very East Indian, but my first name sounds really "white/irish/whatever". I always get the "that's not an Indian name" comment. I like it though, it's original. What I don't like, is when people shorten it, and it becomes one of those common names.

Dood said...

You may want to edit your references for those that share your name, unless you don't mind it being made public by an inquisitive person with research skills or trivia knowledge.

You've given enough information to cross reference data (without too much effort, mind you), for this to be done.

DaisyDeadhead said...

Dood, I still get a steady stream of emails asking my name, so I don't think the vast majority of people know how to do this. If you do, I am impressed!

I don't mind if people figure it out, but I won't confirm their various guesses.

Ted Christian, local congressional candidate I worked for, posted my name on his site for awhile, until I threw a fit and made him take it down. It was right under my picture and blog-link, too!

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Anonymous said...

Wow. Just...wow. That sucks big time. I pride myself in not being able to think of a 'black' name, except for Saffiyah, but that's just because one of my black friends was called that.
But yeah, names can cause a lot of discrimination - one of my friends is called Jackson and everyone assumed he was like Michael Jackson just because of his name. I think whoever uses names to judge are assholes. For example, I would want to name one of my daughters when I have kids after a word in Japanese, because it's a beautiful language. But I pause there because of problems exactly like yours.

Anonymous said...

Hi Vonetta

Anonymous said...

Wow, I never thought it was that bad out there! White people or other races assuming that if someone is of African American decent they cannot read or know what they are talking about!
My race is Hispanic, French, Indian (3 different tribes) and White, which I guess is made up of Irish, Dutch, ect., so I am considered Caucasian, I suppose!
My last name is Briones(breownez)
alot of people pronounce it briiawwns asuming it is a White name considering my mother is White and she was the one that took us to school,doctor,ect.
Anyway we were treated as second class on both sides of our races, so if you can imagine how we felt and were lost not knowing where to turn, but at the same time knowing we were loved by our parents and still are and I am very proud of who I am as a person. I was taught to be independent, loving and caring and we were not allowed to use any racist remarks such as n---er and I have never allowed my children to do this either and have taught them that that word is a cold dark evil person no matter what race they were! 2 of my daughters are attracted to African American men and my daughters look very White, though I taught them all this, they still assumed in the beginning that I would be upset about it! Though I was not I am very worried about their children going through all the racist hurt and remarks but all I can do is do the same with them as I did my girls and allow no racial remarks and teach them to love themselves and be proud! I do have a grandson that is so tremendously loved by us all, his dad is from Trinadad and he is very dark skinned and is such a good dad and loves his son so much even though him and my daughter are not together he pays child support and is a very respectful man and has a great job, which you cannot find a man in this world, no matter there race, like that that will take the responsibility as he has!
My sister, I am very dissappointed in, because she does call black men n----ers Not that there should be a reason but this is hers, some "friends of hers (black & hispanic males)ruined her reputation by saying she did things she did not and made it look like she did. She has lived in North Carolina where the majority is of African American race, she has moved here after a bitter divorce (to a white man) and somehow she has changed and I do not like her too much although I still love her! She is so racist and I cannot stand this and I am not blaming her living in N.C. because I lived there 8 years and I did not change! I was raped by two hispanic men and this did not make me racist against the hipanic race, I married a white man first and he committed suicide and left me with four daughters and eventually I started dating another white man that I found to be very controlling and abusive, I am now married to a Hipanic man that I have very much respect for and am very much in love with! I do not understand the racism in this world not only by the White race but by all races! My greatest prayer is for peace for all U.S. Citzens to love themselves and each other and be proud to be American, not a color!

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Da Bee's Knees said...

Breezing around your blog today, this is an awesome blog entry!

Love some of the comments.

Most people do not know that I am a Black woman when they speak to me by phone.

It amuses me to watch the mental earthquake they have sorting out their incorrect assumption when they visit my office for services. I work in higher education. It never ceases to amuse me.

Proteus said...

I can relate to this, but from the opposite perspective: I have a rather "white"-sounding name, and my speech patterns tend to come across as stereotypically "white." When talking to people online, they're often surprised to find out that I'm black, especially since I don't sound "stereotypically black." I think that people have similar reactions when hearing my phone voice and then meeting me, but I'm a poor judge of body language in general.

I tend to get responses to my job applications, because of my writing style and experience, but I often get stuck at the interview process, even though I come across on paper as a strong, competent applicant with solid experience and qualifications. Considering the stereotypes of black men as being incompetent, stupid, and lazy, I wouldn't be surprised. (Not that it's fair, though; racial screening during interviews is inappropriate, but it's difficult to detect unless someone is being blatantly racist and saying, "I don't trust black people.") They probably expect a white guy to come in, and they end up getting...me.

I find these stereotypes frustrating, because there's an underlying assumption that there's a single "black culture," in which all black people use the same English variants and have the same cultural references. It's disingenuous to claim that, but so many people do, either out of simple ignorance or blatant racism. Yes, some American blacks were raised in an environment in which people use African American Vernacular English and have a common set of cultural references, but there are those of us who don't, including me. I rarely ever heard "Black English" until my family moved to the South, back when I was 11. The dominant "black culture" I was exposed to was not the typical African American culture that most US black people are exposed to, but Trinidadian culture, which is not the same thing at *all.* I considered a lot of those American black references to be rather foreign, and still do, to an extent, even though there's this assumption that as an African American, it's my cultural duty to identify it. I'm not criticizing American black culture—it's as valid as any other—but the idea that all people of a particular ethnic background must share a single culture is just plain fallacious.

It's pretty saddening when other people get the backdraft from those stereotypes, as well: no, people should not be turned down for jobs because they're named "Shaniqua," "DeShawn," or "L'Andre." A person's ethnicity—whether perceived or real—has absolutely no bearing on their ability to be able to perform a job, and it's frustrating that this wrongheaded belief still persists, even in purportedly "postracial" societies.

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This is really fascinating - in Australia, "made-up" names are a class marker, rather than a racial marker, but I suspect there is a good deal of overlap.

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ThisGuy said...

This writing was fascinating to me! Thank you so very much for posting it! I apologize in advance for my rambling and I hope it makes sense.
I can relate to this article in a couple of different ways.I am an african american that grew up in an all white rural area.I can at times speak with a country accent and I have encountered some surprised looks at interviews and even in day to day interactions.I have had patients tell me I am very well spoken and professional and it made me wonder if they would have said that had I been white.My last name is most common amongst blacks and my first name is probably more common in the white community.
And this is off topic,but I am a fully transitioned transgender guy.I was born female but am about as 'average Joe' as you can get.My physical appearance is all male and that was the point of going through the change.The discussions around gender are sometimes disturbing,other times amusing.It is amazing what people talk about concerning gender when they are around such an average guy that just happens to have been a girl early in life.I also identity as straight,dating only women,but I am fascinated by heteronormativity:the assumption that everyone is straight.As long as all the guys in the conversation 'act straight' it seems to become acceptable to joke about the gay community.

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David said...

I did not get to read through it all...

But am I correct in assuming that still you have not revealed your name?

If not, is that a testament to the state of our society, or to your own fear and state of mind?

Adele is going around making money singing black blues hymnals. I cannot feel sorry for you, but instead annoyed. You should be proud of your name, including for the fact that it is a black name.

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