The value of a name


Jessica Carney-Perks

A graphic of a name tag, representing the diversity and importance of a name.

Jessica Carney-Perks

The day we are brought into the world, our paths are left undefined and untouched. However, a name is the start of an identity. 

An identity that you form with your own personality, sexuality, religious beliefs and morals, but, lineage courses through your veins.

Tales of the dark past or the triumphs of great leaders. Some people are fortunate to know about their heritage through celebrations, old letters, talisman, pictures, other keepsakes or contemporary ancestry technology. 

However, this path of tracing legacy isn’t as clear cut as others due to nations being conquered, villages being enslaved, and families being vilified and separated. 

Naming has become a historical venture to honor those lives lost and the greatness that could’ve been.

 Naming is a path to the past that is connected to the possibilities of the future.

To many, this approach is accustomed to their culture. However, when living in the United States and other countries where the majority of people are of European descent, this custom is undignified and irrelevant. 

People assume unique and customized names equate to being poor, uneducated or unqualified. 

In some cases that may be true, however, the generalized assumption makes the custom naming about professionalism and meeting the white gaze rather than connection to individual culture. 

Assumptions that impact employment can hinder the perception of one’s potential to succeed which adds the cyclical narrative of struggle and state of being stagnant.

Students from around the city of Louisville have spoken up to break such cycles as they redefine their own narratives with “unique” names that relate to their culture. 

 “My name is African. Both Sudanese and Ethiopian. It’s not meant to sound ‘white’ because that’s not who I am. I can’t be a Tyler or Brad because it doesn’t fit. I would probably get more looks from having a name like Tyler. If I submit to their discomfort, I lose the connection to my own story,” said Mawien Arop, a freshman from the University of Louisville. 

“I’ve ever made a big deal about my name. It comes from Turkish tradition as a way to like praise the nation. Some of my family have moved to the United States for a better living opportunity for all the kids. All of my siblings have names like mine. It’s not necessarily unique, it just depends on who you ask. It’s only unique to people not open to it,” said Elzara Aslanova, a senior at Atherton High School.

Some students elaborated that they had simply been named after their parents, as a way to continue their parents’ legacy and extend their lineage once they pass on.

“I was named after my dad. We’re not the closest but, all most of us [my siblings] have L names. Regardless of our relationship, my name is simply my own. I wouldn’t change it because it’s who I am,”  said LaMaya Earsery, a senior from Southern High School.

“I don’t think of it as anything too deep. But, it’s one of those things that no matter how you dislike it or would want to change it, I would never allow someone to disrespect it [his name],” said Brannon Smith, a senior from Western High School.

Others even experienced events of mispronunciations in social settings such as school, work and even at a coffee shop when their order is called. 

“Every year it happens on the first day of school. But, it was hard to blame them because how would they know?,” said Arop. 

“I’ve had teachers butcher my name when it’s not even hard. I used to feel like they would go out of their way to mispronounce my name. It used to make me heated but, after a while, I became numb to it,” said Janaie Curtis, a sophomore from Pleasure Ridge Park (PRP) High School.

No matter where these originate from they hold a key place in their hearts as part of their identity.

Unfortunately, some students have experienced feeling underestimated or faced forms of discrimination because of their name. 

“My name isn’t hard to pronounce but, the spelling makes people blink twice sometimes. Some people mess it up but, it happens less often now that I’m older. More than anything, people thought it was exotic. At Stuart [Middle School], I was hyped for being foreign but, it wasn’t the hype I wanted,” said Katrina Alveraz, a junior from Marion C. Moore High School. 

“I don’t really know the meaning of my name but, I know I could still get a job without a problem. People don’t think anything too bad for an Ashley,” said Ashley Trusso, a sophomore from PRP High School.

“The school I go to isn’t the most diverse so, at first reactions to the name Kyla was definitely something to get used to. It’s never a name I’ve been ashamed of but, it’s hard to accept when you’re surrounded by Kate’s and Emily’s. If anything, I just wanted to belong. If race or name gets in the way of that, so be it,”  said Kyla Cooke, a senior from Kentucky Country Day School.

Even in higher-level professional positions and status, people have experienced taunting and heckling for a name given to them.

Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris was a victim of such experience when Republican Senator David Perdue of Georgia mocked the pronunciation of her name at a Trump rally on October 16th, 2020.

As he took the stage, Senator Perdue taunted, “Ka-MAL-a, Ka-MAL-a or Kamala, Kamala, Ka-mala, -mala, -mala, I don’t know, whatever,” Harris said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

Many media outlets went into a frenzy after the senator blatantly disrespected his colleague that he has worked with for various years. Harris has stated in many interviews that it’s pronounced “comma-la”

This is a problem because the purposeful disrespect is an act to invalidate her character and accomplishments.

In addition to this personal attack on her name, it presents this common idea that this behavior is not only acceptable but humorous.

Already as a minority and a woman, she is underestimated in various directions to a point where many want to see Harris’s downfall. 

This event caused Twitter to rave in the social media trend and tag of #MyNameIs as a way to show solidarity and unity for Senator Harris at the time.

This trend fled as a way to correct some microaggressions and illustrate worldwide why the pronunciation of a name is important not only as part of one’s identity but also respecting that identity.

Names are symbolic of the impact we leave on this planet.

Whether we live lives of success and wealth or demise and poverty, your name is all your own and defined by you.

As people of the present and the future, we hold the power to give meaning to those names and construct our own paths separate from our ancestors.

Tomorrow, what will that name mean?