Are Distinctively African-American Names a Thing of the Past?

Back when I worked as an editor at the Times Magazine, we held weekly or twice-weekly editorial meetings at which you’d go around the table and suggest story ideas. There were many varieties of ideas, including: Dutiful but Dull; Dutiful and Worthwhile; Sexy but Substance-Free; Just Not Interesting; and everyone’s favorite: Interesting — if True.

Into this final category falls a report that a federal judge in Detroit has taken away from African-American mothers the right to name their babies:

[A] federal judge ruled today that black women no longer have independent naming rights for their children. Too many black children — and many adults — bear names that border on not even being words, he said. “I am simply tired of these ridiculous names black women are giving their children,” said U.S. Federal Judge Ryan Cabrera before rendering his decision. “Someone had to put a stop to it.”

Interesting — but true? Not even close, as the folks at explain. Which means, if nothing else, that our chapter in Freakonomics called “Would a Roshanda by Any Other Name Smell as Sweet?” isn’t headed for obsolescence just yet.

(Hat tip: Fred Telegdy.)

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  1. rob says:

    horribile but true story….a good friend of mine was making some phone calls at work and came across a woman named “Turkeesha” explaining to him that her mother loved thanksgiving.

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  2. Chewxy says:

    The People’s News is actually a very interesting satire site :)

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  3. Lukesed says:


    Why is that so horrible? Turkeesha isn’t even a unique name, as google would be happy to tell you.

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  4. rob says:


    because her mother named her after the food you eat on her favorite holiday. hmmm….i love fourth of july. maybe i’ll name my first child babequeesha?

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  5. nina says:

    If only. I saw a Sirtaurus last week. No, really. My mother works at an elementary school in small town GA. Its about 99% black. The majority of the children have names that seem to be made by playing the Prefix-Root-Suffix Game.
    I always wonder what such parents imagine as their child’s future career. Do they expect them to be professionals? Do they care? Are they aware of the problems such names cause?

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  6. Brian says:

    Maybe not as bad as Coolnike or Beerbong, but a name that certainly isn’t going to win you any points in the business world…

    Unless you work at Butterball.

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  7. Bill Matthews says:

    Hey Steve: as the writer of the satirical Naming Rights article you cite (and co-founder of The Peoples News), I never meant for readers to think it was real. But as evidenced by the tremendous response the article continues to receive, it’s obvious the very unique names my fellow African Americans give their children is a topic that merits continued discussion.

    Bill Matthews
    Editor in Chief
    The Peoples News

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  8. jesse says:

    It’s not just black people who give their kids strange names. For some reason people in Utah (probably one of the states with the smallest black populations) love to give their kids stupid names. Here’s a good site about it:

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