Black Names Matter: The Black Names Book
In Black Names Matter: The Black Names Book author Bobby “BC” Cenoura poses some very important questions. For instance, how do our names define us? In the case of African Americans especially, a name can convey a great deal. Historically, names could be a sign of oppression because slave owners would typically replace their slaves’ original African names with their own Eurocentric surnames for ownership purposes. Thus, perhaps as a backlash to this re-naming, in later times African Americans chose names that reflected their reclaimed African heritage. Cenoura, however, posits that in fact recent naming conventions instead feature unique combinations borrowed from many cultures and are not necessarily African in origin any longer.
He also asks whether black names affect economic progress or prospects of an individual and includes research that shows that using a typically black name can reduce the occurrence of a callback for a job by 50% as compared to white-sounding names. He includes testimony from some African Americans who have “whitened” their names and received more favorable responses from employers by doing so. He cautions parents to be mindful of choosing names for their children that are too black-sounding because they are potentially putting their children at a disadvantage later in life.
While his research is a bit on the light side concerning the questions he initially poses, it is the reference sections of the book which will prove most helpful for scholars. Though it cannot be considered an etymological study of African American names, it is a useful listing of naming conventions currently in use in our country.
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