Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Washington, Lincoln, and Ogunleye?

Eric Zorn's latest column muses on the "euphonic symphony" of players' names in today's NFL. The Chicago Bears roster includes guys named Adawale Ogunleye, Oladele Brendon Ayanbadejo, and Israel Idonije—and yes, one of them is foreign-born: Idonije was born in Canada. The rest of the league includes many other players with non-European, not-traditionally-American names.

Celebrating their distinctive appellations celebrates that Americans from other cultures no longer have to "westernize" their names to fit in, Zorn writes. It wasn't long ago that the conventional wisdom held that Illinois voters would be reluctant to elect a governor with a hard-to-spell name like Blagojevich, or a senator with a "foreign" name like Barack Obama. As it turns out, not only did Illinoisans vote for Obama in droves, but the rest of the country wants a chance to vote for him, too. Zorn points out, Unfamiliar is not the same as strange. Foreign does not mean unwelcome. The beauty is both in the lyrical cadences of Ayanbadejo, Idonije and Ogunleye and in the recognition they provoke: National and cultural origins notwithstanding, these are also, now, truly American names.

I look at the names of my son's kindergarten classmates and see the future of the city. Zishan and Maham, Tinuola and Pedro, Michelle and Lynda. All of them are American kids, no more or less so than the Caitlyns, Tylers, and (alas) Brittneys.

5 comments:

The Un-Apologetic Atheist said...

I'd be willing to bet it just scares the hell out of the WASPs of this nation who prefer a world of lilly-white Brittanys and Johnnys.

And that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

And frankly, a little ashamed of the name Robert William.

I plan to name my first daughter Amilee or Mirielle, whichever my partner prefers. I'll let her pick our boys' names, but I'll fight her if she goes for something trite, common, and Anglo.

Orange said...

Rob, Rob, Rob. Amilee or Mirielle? You want to consign her to a lifetime of explaining, spelling it out, and being called Amelia, Muriel, the French Mireille, the French Amelie, Amy Leigh, Miriam, Maryellen, etc? I must go on record as deploring the trend of assigning "unique" (i.e., completely made up, pulled out of the parents' butts) names.

Anyone who's planning to name a baby soon, or who's merely a sucker for baby names, should read chapter 6 in Levitt and Dubner's Freakonomics. They parse the baby-name data from California and discuss what names are associated with middle-income or more educated parents vs. poor or poorly educated parents. (Hilariously, Benjamin shows up at #1 on the list of "most common white boy names among high-education parents.") They also list the names that are statistically most strongly associated with white or black race. It's a fascinating read.

Chris said...

My son's name is Culhain (pronounced Cull-en), only because his mother threatened to kill me if I spelled/pronounced it correctly: (Chu'chullhain). And, she had to fight me tooth and nail on it, too, because I do not favor "made up" names, either.

I don't care how you try to "romanticize" the spelling...Amilee is still just "Amy Lee", and Leeza/Leesa/Leighsa is still just "Lisa".

DoctorMama said...

UA -- you broke the cardinal rule of odd baby names: Don't leak them before the baby is present and yelling in the physical world. You will bring down the wrath of many to bear upon you.

The Un-Apologetic Atheist said...

Actually, Amilee (ah-MAYE-lee) is an old family name in my Cajun-French family. Mirielle is a French woman I met once, and was enthralled with her just from saying her name. It was to be my name, Amilee Rose, after two of my grandmother's sisters, and I still think it's a beautiful name. In fact, I named my first newly-purchased motorcycle Amilee, and my current bike is named Rose.

Doc - So I see, and thanks for the tip!