Monday, May 30, 2005

Freakonomy indeed

In addition to the usual load of more arcane material, lately I've been reading a Best Seller (Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner), which spends a chapter examining the question of whether people are held back if they have weird and/or self-evidently minority (esp. black) names. The answer, when one controls for other factors, seems to be no; but on the way to this conclusion our authors throw out a bunch of titillating tidbits (that's how you get to be Best-Selling Authors).
A great many black names today are unique to blacks. More than 40 percent of the black girls born in California in a given year receive a name that not one of the roughly 100,000 baby white girls received that year. Even more remarkably, nearly 30 percent of the black girls are given a name that is unique among every baby, white and black, born that year in California. (There were also 228 babies named Unique during the 1990's alone, and 1 each of Uneek, Uneque, and Uneqqee.)

I don't have a problem with unusual names in general; there are some great names in sports, like Peerless Price (and remember I. M. Hipp?). But Uneqqee?? Yeeqqee. And here's a story that suggests that the warnings on certain medications should be extended to read: do not drive, operate machinery, or name your child while taking this product.
Roland G. Fryer Jr., while discussing his names research on a radio show, took a call from a black woman who was upset with the name just given to her baby niece. It was pronounced shuh-TEED but was in fact spelled "Shithead."

That definitely trumps the story my dad likes to tell (but here it is anyway) about the family who wanted to name their daughter yoo-REEN (sp: Urine). (Beautiful, but not a biblical name, said the preacher; how about Rachel instead?)
Or consider the twin boys OrangeJello and LemonJello, also black, whose parents further dignified their choice by instituting the pronunciations a-RON-zhello and le-MON-zhello.

Dignified? Tell that to their sisters Lih-MEE-zhello and Razba-REE-zhello [rimshot]. Actually I bet everyone's used to it by now; or they just go by Ron and Monj. Incidentally, they tell us that this story is considered an urban legend, but they stick by it nonetheless. (Note, however, the distancing move re: Shithead -- that's what the caller said, but who knows?) Lastly,
A young couple named Natalie Jeremijenko and Dalton Conley recently renamed their four-year-old son Yo Xing Heyno Augustus Eisner Alexander Weiser Knuckles Jeremijenko-Conley.

Oh, that's just great. Hyphenated names are a stretch to begin with, but then you have to exercise some restraint. I mean, Joe Jeremijenko-Conley is a halfway reasonable name; but Yo? If he lives in Philadelphia he'll think everyone's calling his name whenever he walks down the street. Xing and Heyno aren't any better, but at least they're in the middle. After that we have a stretch of relatively normal names -- but then, right before the finish, comes the final insult: Knuckles. Yo Knuckles: sounds like that character from Lilo and Stitch, Cobra Bubbles, the government agent, to whom is addressed my favorite line in that movie: "Oh good, my dog found the chain saw."

1 comment:

Earthbound Whisper said...

This is really funny stuff!