What’s In a ‘Ghetto’ Name?

What’s In a ‘Ghetto’ Name?


Two women have shared their stories of job denials from Mantality Health in a story initially reported by KMOV in St. Louis and posted by Ebony. The ladies were obviously unsuspecting when the denial arrived in their inbox. The denial stated in part: “Unfortunately, we do not consider candidates that have suggestive ghetto names.” This has led me to ask, what’s in a “ghetto” name?

Genealogy, ethnicity, gender, geology and several other factors help determine the etymology of a person’s name. It all becomes problematic when a person’s name alone becomes a barrier to opportunity and success. 

The names in question in today’s story are: “Hermeisha” and “Dorneisha“, two unique names created by combining the names of other people. In black America, these names are not alarming, but to people and corporations that exist outside the microcosm of black America, these names are marked by a denotation, rather than a connotation. For some reason, people with non-European, non-traditional names are perceived to be less than. As if, names coincide with socio-economic status and attitudes. How can this be so? It is all based upon the perception of the person or system in power.

To most black people, we know that regardless of the name, we want to see you face to face before we judge anything you do. We know a man named “Tyrone” could be a drug dealer, a celebrity bodyguard, the building supervisor, your best friend’s big brother- the mechanic, an overall cool dude or your department manager! To some men, he’s that third wheel you can seem to shake but find a way to include him in all your outings with your lady as Erykah Badu put it in her 1997 smash. 

In my experience, Leroy is not only my late-grandfather who was half-Chinese and half-black, he is also a white (possibly non-black mixed heritage) man, who’s a manager at Walmart. I first met Leroy in Weatherford in college and again when he transferred to the Walmart here on the southwest side of Fort Worth. I don’t know where Leroy is from and to avoid the awkward conversation about race, perception and nomenclature, I never engaged him about his name. In french, Leroy (Le Roi) means “the king” to which my grandfather wholeheartedly agreed. His father, a Chinese man was named Emmett Wilson. I’m still unsure that was his given name or an assimilation. 

This reminds me of many of my Asian classmates who changed their names upon arriving in the United States, becoming naturalized or being born into Asian-American families. In fact, it’s more common than I originally thought, as described in this piece in the Washington Post. What about left handers who had to become ambidextrous because not using the right hand as dominant was still frowned upon as late as the 20th Century? 

Names or handedness…they go ‘hand in hand’ as you can choose neither. In fact, the psychological principal of “nature versus nurture” is the most important here. What your name means is not always what your name says.  Same with the left hand, what was formerly viewed as pejorative and even “perverse” was a characteristic of eight US Presidents, the latest being President Barack Obama. 

Names mean something important. In fact, our name says more about us than some of us will ever get to say. While no one should be judged by their name alone, I do think that there is a level of care and concern that parents should take into consideration upon naming children. The privilege of naming a child is nothing to take lightly. Remember Dr. King’s statement about judging character and not skin color, the same goes for names. 

In the news, names like Airwrecka (McBride from a news interview) and Sharkeisha from a viral fight video remain at the top of the list when people engage on social media about “ghetto” names. White America has yet to respect ethnic names and that’s a major problem, however, it’s irresponsible to not consider your child’s future when choosing a name for them. To do so and not think that it would pose a difficulty is shortsighted and in some ways harmful to the child. This shouldn’t limit parents in their creativity. Former NBA player and current ESPN broadcaster Jalen Rose is named after both of his parents-a combination of his father and uncle’s names

In the last decade, I have noticed an influx of difficult to pronounce first names in professional sports. For whatever reason, this is now the norm. The first time I noticed was, D’Brickashaw Ferguson. This was his given name and not a nickname like “BoogerMcFarland. D’Brickashaw Ferguson is a multi-millionaire thanks to his athletic gifting and ability to play professional football. Can you imagine there would be any difficulty getting a job in corporate America? What about Olympic skier, Picabo Street? Her family had the means for her to ultimately pursue a professional ski career. But what if she had fallen short of Olympic aspirations? Would she be dismissed for having a “ghetto” name? The name is pronounced like the toddler aged game, but is derived from a village close to her hometown named after a native tribe.

Black people aren’t the only people who face discrimination. Native Americans, black people, and immigrants with ‘hard to pronounce’ names find themselves on the outs or having to assimilate to European names or nicknames in hopes of earning a chance at gainful employment. While I don’t see this changing anytime soon, this is the perfect time to further this conversation and rid corporate America of the stigma of name discrimination. 

As stated in the report, Mantality Health has denied that the job denial email originated at their company. Indeed however has denied any wrongdoing and refutes the claim that Mantality was compromised on their site. 

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