Point of Controversy: The Name Game

What’s in a name?  Science suggests that it could mean everything from future job prospects to predicting future behavioral issues. It’s no secret that our names leave an impression on people that result in further inquiry or just outright prejudice. It shouldn’t be that way, but I feel that my simple, recognizable name has provided me with an edge in life. I can’t provide definitive proof, but I can’t help but attribute a little bit of that luck to my biblical namesake. Our society is more likely to accept others based on commonality rather than celebrating differences. Although I value cultural differences, the name my mother bestowed upon me is one instance when I’m okay with being in the norm.

The idea that I didn’t have to fight that undetectable battle may have made me more approachable throughout my life. Coming from a generation of parents who were into alcohol, sex, drugs and the flowerchild mentality, I began my life defying the odds by avoiding a name like Mercury Wren Sunchild Starks. Hey, don’t laugh; the drugs were powerful and the weirdness was plentiful back in those days. It could’ve happened! Nevertheless, let’s get into the excerpt in question:

The simplicity and strength that came with the name Adam did not resonate during my formative years. The name itself, meaning first man or man made from the ground, adequately describes my journey thus far. From a more positive viewpoint, the strength and resilience signified in my name may have forced me to dig deeper psychologically, to hone in and rely upon my keen survival instincts. And if I managed to survive my childhood, the simplicity of it meant I would not have to fight the undetectable stigma and unnecessary battles so many black individuals have to endure throughout their adult years. However you decipher what’s in a name, I can say with certainty that the name itself was part of the reason I internalized its strength throughout my formative years. Regardless of my mother’s shortcomings, I eventually came around to thanking her for this name. Even though my mother chased an impractical dream of becoming a songwriter, heavily drank alcohol during my womb occupancy, and managed to lose us to the foster care system, she managed to bless me with a name that would not hinder my future attempt at achieving the American dream.

On the surface, the writing may appear somewhat arrogant depending on your level of sensitivity toward this issue. However, let’s dig a little deeper.

Regardless of our realization of unconscienced bias, names affect perception and that perception feeds into our identity. I grew up hating my name for no other reason than it didn’t seem to be black enough. Let’s be honest here; there aren’t a lot of brothers named Adam floating around out there. After getting my ass beat day in and day out by black boys with black-sounding names during my fifth-grade year at Floyd T. Binns (Culpeper, VA), I often thought about my blackness or lack thereof. Later in the book, I delve into the name I picked when I thought adoption was a real possibility (Deion Alexander Moore), but I eventually became thankful that the Bible led my mother to a more run-of-the-mill, yet powerful, name. Yes, Adam is about as American as a bald eagle eating an apple pie in your grandmama’s kitchen; so is Soo Yung, Taneka or Graham.

Name discrimination is quite frankly one of the dumbest forms of discrimination imaginable. It has no bearing whatsoever on a person’s ability to perform job functions or worthiness of dignity. I hope to see it disappear in my lifetime, but for my generation, that’s clearly not the case. When Jamal, Jose or Yolanda can’t land a damn job interview, the battle is covert and incredibly real. It’s frustrating to witness this form of prejudice, but it’s just as infuriating to encounter Blacks who immediately refuse to accept my similar skin color simply because my name isn’t Devonte. While, I’m sure I could pass for a Devonte, I’m frequently mistaken for a white male during phone conversations or e-mails by too many of my colleagues. Once they finally meet me, some have told me flat out, “You don’t look like an Adam.” Perceiving folks by name alone is a natural phenomenon as we try to depict others in order to make a human connection in the technological age, so I don’t get too offended by the notion.

To end on a lighter note, here’s one of my mother’s jams from back in the day (before my time). I often sing and dance to this one with my daughter, Susannah. Have fun with it!

The Name Game by Shirley Ellis

Broken Child Mended Man is available in e-book and paperback form at several online booksellers. Please visit www.adamstarks.com/order-book for more details.