Tuesday, March 5, 2013
The Politics of Naming: Thomas Made it to Yale, I Wonder Where Trevon Ended Up?
Nicholas got into Yale University. Did Deshawn make it to Yale too?
It would seem that the authors of Freakonomics have spawned a cottage industry.
Names are not destiny. But, they certainly tell us a great deal about social capital and community norms.
Elites have their own subculture and exclusive social networks. In this world there are significant barriers to entry, very specific local norms, and insider knowledge that is denied to those not in the clique.
The poor live in a parallel world. They too have their own very narrow social networks (many poor folks are poor precisely because all they know are other poor people), subcultural norms, and types of insider knowledge as well.
The differences between these two worlds--beyond material resources--is that rich folks and other elites have cultural capital that is portable beyond a three square block area in normal society. Poor folks, the ghetto underclass in particular, have cultural capital that has no real use outside of a very narrow world, one which sadly, most never escape.
There is an irony there: the dream merchants and culture industry sells "ghetto authenticity" as a product, but most of the folks who are living vicarious through "slumming," and embodying a quasi-hip hop ghetto authenticity habitus as updated white negroes, would not want to be poor in real life.
Ghetto couture is "fun" because you can always take it off.
As Gawker and the Guardian suggest, there are certain names which open doors and other names which close them. I have a "boring" name. I thank my parents for that fact. But, my parents, as working class folks, did not have the social or economic capital to indulge a trendy name common to the blue blood crowd because the resources were not present to shield me from how names can impact life chances.
Yes, a name is most certainly a "proxy variable." Nevertheless, it can tell you a great deal about one's community of origin and the resources available to your parents and family (or their knowledge of how to game the system in pursuit of upward mobility).
Names like Samuel, Matthew, Margaret, and Sophia are among the most popular names at Yale. The black bourgeoisie has its own naming conventions as well. I wonder what the most popular names are at Howard? Moving lower down the prestige chain among HBCUs, I wonder what names dominate the rosters of schools such as Stillman or Shaw?