Betty Baye: 'What's in a Name?'
ED GORDON, host:
Shakespeare posed the age-old question: What's in a name? Commentator Betty Baye thinks she may have an answer.
I knew a girl named Venus growing up and can still remember that day in the school yard when the worst insult a girl who was itching for a fight could think of to provoke Venus was to scream `Venus, your mother sure was optimistic,' and Mrs. Abulaz(ph) must have been. Venus, after all, is the goddess of love, a true beauty, so beautiful that she's immortalized by a statue in the Louvre.
Meanwhile, I was thinking not long ago that, `Wow, it's been along time since I've heard of a baby named Betty.' Not even my sister Georgeann(ph), who loves me dearly, named one of her two daughters after her big sister. My name may be out of fashion, but it's special because it was my mother's name and because one of my father's sisters, who died before I was born, was named Betty, too. No wonder my parents had a hissy fit when, with black consciousness rising, back in the revolutionary '60s, I took to calling myself Yetunde. No slave name for me. A Nigerian told me that in his language, Yetunde meant `mother's favorite.'
Perhaps so, but the name was no favorite of my mom's. One time, she called me at the theater where I was learning to be an actress, thinking that I was going to be the next Cicely Tyson, `May I speak to Betty?' my mother said, and back came the reply, `Oh, you mean Yetunde?' `No, I mean Betty,' my mother said sharply, and I could imagine my mom very annoyed, biting down hard on her non-filtered Pall Mall cigarettes.
In retrospect, I believe that my parents weren't angry, so much as they were hurt at what they perceived as my rejecting the name they had chosen for me. What's in a name anyhow? I was driving to work recently, listening to Fantasia Barrino's first hit, "Truth Is," on the radio, and I thought, `What was Fantasia's mother thinking, giving her child a name like that?' But it occurred to me that just like Venus' mother, Fantasia's mom was being optimistic when she named her daughter. Maybe she looked down at her chocolate bundle and thought, `This child is going to be somebody. She's going to open her mouth one day and sing and millions of people will say, "She's fantastic." That's Fantasia. She's my American idol.'
What's in a name? A lot. It's not unusual for people to infer much about us based solely on our names. They imagine our race, our class, our religion, level of education, what side of the tracks we were born on, and even whether there can be any expectation that we can succeed. What's in a name? Remember Bill Cosby's rant against poor blacks? His list of their alleged offenses, besides being failed parents and clowning too much, is that they often give their children, he said, `names like Shaniqua, Taliqua, Mohammed and all that crap.' By that standard, can you imagine how different life would be for, say, Kareem, Shaq, Kobe, Tiger, Barack and Beyonce, too, if they weren't mega-talents but ordinary black folks just looking for work?
What's in a name? A lot. Personally, I believe it's your basic human right to name yourself or your children after whomever or whatever you please, ancient ancestors, kings, queens, goddesses, continents, countries, bodies of waters, your spices or favorite superstar. But know this: When somebody shows up and says it's time to fill out the baby's birth certificate, you need to appreciate the seriousness of the moment, because it's no myth. There definitely is something, a lot, to a name.
GORDON: Betty Baye is a columnist with The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky.
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