Thursday, May 3, 2007

But the Comma, Colon, Semicolon and Ellipsis Remain Very Much Underused

NOTY reader Amit nominates Air Force Senior Airman R'Chardrick Markray, who was shot and killed the other day outside a baby shower in a residential neighborhood near Las Vegas. Amit writes:

I'm calling it now. ``R’’ is the new ``Le’’ or ``Ja.’’

Or ``De,’’ ``Da’’ or ``La.’’ Together they are the most popular of the decorative first-name prefixes. Take last weekend’s NFL draft. Here are the 2007 Prefixed NFL Draftees—Mel Kiper had them on a separate board—in order of selection:

JaMarcus Russell
LaRon Landry
LaMarr Woodley
DeMarcus Tyler
Le’Ron McClain
DeShawn Wynn

De- and Da- mean ``of,’’ while Le- and La- mean ``the,’’ a fact that, as NOTY friend and Mr. Irrelevant Jamie Mottram notes, quickly prompted some Washington Redskins entrepreneurs to create the $17.49 T-shirt on the right.

And Ja? ``Yes’’ in German. ``Magnetic'' in Korean. Michael David Smith at AOL Fanhouse figured out that the Oakland Raiders' new quarterback is the first ``JaMarcus’’ ever taken in the NFL draft.

Which made us wonder: Why throw a prefix on a perfectly good name? Or on a perfectly ridiculous name? In an onomastic article posted at Behind the Name, Robert Fikes Jr., a librarian at San Diego State, examines how African-Americans have over the last two decades, to NOTY’s great joy, ``embraced the practice of conjuring atypical, fabricated names.’’ Fikes and his researchers examined ``thousands of names matched with photos’’ on the websites of pro and college sports teams and black fraternities and sororities and compiled a simply outstanding list of more 400 male and female first names, from A’quonesia to Zontavius.

Fikes tackles the prefix issue head on:

Among other things, a strong affinity for French-sounding names is quite obvious with the articles L', Le, and La used in abundance. Also very popular are the prefixes Sha, She, Shi, Ja, Je, Ka, Da, and De; and the suffixes isha, esha, ika, ius, ante, and ita. We also note the prediliction for mid-word capitalization (examples: LaQunda, LucQuente, D'Livero, AuTashea, DeLisha, NeClea) and the rising trend toward hyphenation (Fa-Trenna, K-Rob, R-Kal).

A quick scan of the NOTY Archives confirms his observation.

JeVon Kilgo (1997)
R-Kal Trueluck (1998)
K’Zell Wesson (1998)
JaMine Rozell (1998)
La’Keisha Laughinghouse (2002)
Q’Beashable Scott (2003)
D’Brickashaw Ferguson (2005)
De’Cody Fagg (2007)

These are more than just great names. According to Fikes, they are the product of 40 years of African-American naming practices.

Emerging from the struggle of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and with new found pride in Africa's greatness, was the popular trend of African and Muslim/Arabic names like Jamal, Abdul, Kareem, Rashad, Kenya, Zulu, Shaquille, Ali, and Hakeem. But clearly by the early 1980s a noticeable disconnect with the past had begun as witnessed by the startling increase in names having little if any meaningful origin. Judging from our survey of first names of young African American adults, the tug of war amongst the Afrocentrists, the assimilationists, and the multiculturalists of the 1990s did not produce a clear winner and in today's society and the word on the street is that anything goes.

Amen to that. The parental reasoning: Unusual names ``sound pleasing to the ear ... are spelled in some unique fashion, give the impression of being unique, or all of the foregoing.’’ Fikes writes that the names are intended to give the bearer ``status, respect, and individuality.’’ And also to flip the bird at Anglo culture, ``to put distance between that which is perceived as bland, ordinary, conformist, oppressive, and white.’’

Our only complaint with Fikes’s survey: no last names. So Velveeta, Monsanto, Be Cautious, Aquafina, Karmonica, La'Tangela, Tanquest, Lavoris, Le’Greg, Psyche, Andropolis and JueMichael: If you want a place in the 2008 NOTY Tournament, send us your surnames now.