The Nuance of Name

1998 – Washington, DC
The Common Share Bar, 1am

Three friends walk in to stalk seats at a bar, once seated, two friends get up and one holds the fort down. Time passes by and the lone friend strikes up a convo with a neighboring guy and his two friends. After light bar talk, introductions are made. Says lone friend: “Hi my name is Shannon.” To which one of the guys replies: “Shannon, are you for real? I thought it would be KiKi or something with a vowel!” Nervous laughter and the offer to buy lone friend a beer follows.

Welcome to my life.

Some of you faithful Parlour readers may know me as JBaker, but in the everyday world I go by my legal name: Shannon Washington.  Other than being mistaken for a boy sometimes (its a boy’s name), mi nombre has never been too much of an issue for me until I entered college, and then, the “real” world.

In school, while crafting my first design resume, a professor joked with me in private that I was blessed to have an “English” name, unlike a Keisha, Shante, or Kenya when it came to my first job hunt. Truth is, sharing a name with a river in Ireland has had it’s fair share of ups and downs, but while reading a recent article in the New York Times about the challenges facing job-seekers of color and how factors such as “ethnic” names play a key role, I couldn’t help but feel a slight twinge of guilt mixed with relief and sympathy. Truth is, its not so much easier on the other side of the name pool for some.

While my career now is a little more steady, I can tell you countless times when I’ve seen my interviewer’s expression change to surprise after discovering that I’m black (and sometimes, female) when I show up for an interview. I guess that degree from Howard University and affiliation with the Museum of the African Diaspora was just always overlooked. And just like the bar instance mentioned above, I take offense when I am told that I must be lucky to have a “regular” or “white” name, or when someone’s name is called “ghetto” as opposed to “normal.” To me it’s an affront on my identity as a woman of color, as if I have something extra to prove or an unfair advantage over others who share my ethnicity.

While this is not a purely Black/White issue, the same applies to all that feel pressured to change their names in the hopes of “fitting in” because the Vietnamese woman who does your nails probably isn’t really named Angela. If our country is the melting pot that it proudly proclaims to be, when will Shaunda or Rahni ever have the same set of chances Dick and Jane?

Parlour fam, what’s your name game?



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