Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What's In A Name? That Depends If You Have the Blackest Name in America

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

Quick, don't think too hard. What do you think is the Blackest surname in America? I guessed Johnson, but I was wrong. Turns out it's Washington. As in George, or my writer friend at the Associated Press, Jesse Washington (who is actually Mixed) who penned this fascinating article on the origins and reasons why 90 percent of the Washingtons in America are Black. In addition, he takes a look at the relatively small minority of White Washingtons to find out what it's like to live with a very Black name. Here's a juicy nugget from the story:

"The story of how Washington became the "blackest name" begins with slavery and takes a sharp turn after the Civil War, when all blacks were allowed the dignity of a surname.

Even before Emancipation, many enslaved black people chose their own surnames to establish their identities. Afterward, some historians theorize, large numbers of blacks chose the name Washington in the process of asserting their freedom.

I urge you to read the rest of the story as it is a fascinating read. It really does make one think about what their name says about them (which I already wrote about here on the Meltingpot), but it also makes one consider the act of naming. What would you call yourself if you had the chance to choose your own name? Even though I don't exactly look to Beyonce as a role model, I kind of admire her choice of an alter ego/ stage name( Sasha Fierce) to channel her "wild side" during performance. I don't plan on changing my real name any time soon, but I guess I could work on an alter ego name for those times when I need to get out of my comfort zone as a writer, mother, and everyday Black girl. I think that name would be, Ruby Blu. What do you think? Do you have a name for your alter ego? You know I want to hear it.



iamatraveler said...

I found that article pretty interesting. Although I don't have a lot of Black friends with the last name of Washington, I do have a couple of Black friends with the last name of Johnson.
As far as my name, I love my name, my given name and my family name... Nefertiti Jenkins, although it does get old spelling my name over and over again for people over the phone, and then giving brief history lessons to complete strangers. But besides that, I love being named after a queen.
And as far as my surname, I actually have detailed information on my white male ancestor who came to Louisiana from Wales in the 1850's and hooked up with my half Native American and half Black ancestor (a Tolliver) to begin the colored Jenkins family line. My family name is my history, and I wouldn't change it for anything in the world.
On a quick side note, my father's grandfather looked white. And when he was in his 70's he had a heart attack and died on the street. When he was found, it was assumed that he was a white man, so he was placed in a white morgue, and none of the family could find him. Finally one of my great aunties thought to go to the morgue (back then they were segregated), and they finally found him in the white one. That's a Jenkins story that's been passed down from my Dad to me!

LT said...

Ms. Nefertiti,
What a wonderful story and a wonderful name. I wouldn't change it either!!

iamatraveler said...

Thank you!