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Category: black names

Black History Names: Barrier Breakers

blackbreakthroughs-heroes

Black history is filled with the extraordinary names of extraordinary achievers.  This being the first day of Black History Month, we thought we’d look back through African-American history, on the lookout for the (interesting) names of people who have made breakthroughs by being the first to achieve something, whether it be in the arena of goverment, Civil Rights, scholarship, the professions, sports or the arts.  It’s quite surprising to see how recently some of them occurred.

Here are some outstanding black history names:

GIRLS

  • Alexia Canada— first female African-American neurosurgeon (1984)
  • Althea Gibson—first black to win a major tennis title (1956) and first black woman to play on the Ladies PGA golf tour (1964)
  • Aretha Franklin—first black woman inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame (1986)
  • Aulana Peters—first black woman appointed to the Securities and Exchange Commission (1984)
  • Bessie Coleman—first black woman aviator (1921)
  • Biddy Mason—first known black female property owner in L.A. (1866)
  • Camilla Williams—first black woman to sing with the New York City Opera (1945)
  • Charlotta Bass—considered the first black woman newspaper publisher (1912), and the first African-American to run for vice-president (1952)
  • Condoleezza Rice –first female head of the National Security Council (2001), first black woman Secretary of State (2005)
  • Constance Baker Motley—first black woman federal judge (1966)
  • Cora M. Brown—first black woman in the US to be elected to a state senate (1952)
  • Della Reese—first black woman to host a TV variety show (1969)
  • Euzham Palcy—first black woman director of a feature film for a major studio (1989)
  • Dorothea Towles—first professional black woman model (1949)
  • Dorothy Dandridge—first black woman nominated for an Oscar in a leading role (1955)
  • Ella Fitzgerald—first black woman to win a Grammy (1959)
  • Gwendolyn Stewart King—first black woman commissioner of Social Security (1989)
  • Hazel Johnson—first black woman army general (1979)
  • Hazel Scott—first black entertainer to host her own TV show (1950)
  • Ida Rollins—the first black woman dentist (1890)
  • Jewel Plummer Cobb — the first black woman president of a California State University (1981)
  • Joycelyn (born Minnie) Elders –the first black female Surgeon General of the U.S. (1993)
  • Katherine Dunham—first black choreographer to work at the Metropolitan Opera House (1963)
  • Lorraine Hansberry—first African-American to win the NY Drama Critics Award (1959)
  • Lucy Ann Stanton—the first black woman college graduate (1850)
  • Maggie Lena Walker—first black woman bank president (1903)
  • Mamie Smith—first black woman to make a recording (1920)
  • Marvel Jackson Cooke—first full-time black reporter on a mainstream paper (1950)
  • Maude Rutherford—dancer who first introduced the Charleston on Broadway (1922)
  • Maya Angelou (born Marguerite) – first black woman to have a nonfiction bestseller (1970); first black inaugural poet (1993)
  • Michelle Obama–first African-American first lady (2009)
  • Minnie M. Geddings Cox—first black US postmistress (1891)
  • Minyon Moore—first black woman political director of the National Democratic Committee (1995)
  • Octavia Butler—the first published female black science fiction writer (1976)
  • Oprah Winfrey==first black woman to host a nationally syndicated weekday talk show (1986)

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gwendolyn-brooks

This year in celebration of Black History Month we turn for naming inspiration to the cultural heroines of the Harlem Renaissance.  These women—novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, sculptors and musicians– all played significant roles in the movement that flourished from the end of World War I through the mid-1930s, during which a group of writers and other artists fostered an intellectual blossoming that was instrumental in forging a new black cultural identity.

The talented women listed below, some better known than others, would all provide great namesakes and role models for any child.

A’LELIA Walker—an African-American businesswoman who was an important patron of the artists of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s.

ALICE Dunbar-Nelson — Journalist, poet, activist and prominent Harlem Renaissance figure.

ANGELINA Weld Grimké—Harlem Renaissance writer, one of the first black women to have a play performed in public.

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nyc

The New York City Health Department released its list of most popular names of 2008 today–at last–with some pretty interesting results.  (It reminded me of the old Jennifer & Jason days–before the Social Security Administration was compiling a national list, when Pam and I used to have to contact –and sometimes plead with–the Health Departments of all fifty  states for their figures and laboriously construct our own master list–and I recall that New York State and City were always the last to straggle in.)

For a long time–and especially considering the City’s hip reputation–New York‘s list was surprisingly conservative, with Michael, Ashley and Emily lounging in the top spots year after year.  That changed somewhat in 2007, when Isabella and Sophia tied for Number One.  This year, the more modern Jayden joined Sophia at the head of the list, bringing New York finally and  fully into the 21st century.

Here are the Top Ten names for both genders:

GIRLS

SOPHIA

ISABELLA

EMILY

OLIVIA

SARAH

MADISON

ASHLEY

MIA

SAMANTHA

EMMA

BOYS

JAYDEN

DANIEL

MICHAEL

MATTHEW

DAVID

JOSHUA

JUSTIN

ANTHONY

CHRISTOPHER

ETHAN/RYAN

But what is most intriguing about NYC is that it’s one of the few localities to break down its findings into separate ethnic lists for Hispanics, Blacks, Whites, and Asian & Pacific Islanders, revealing their extremely wide disparities.  For example, the only group to have the overall No. 1 girls’ name, Sophia, at the top is the Asian; the other three each had different girls’ names–Ashley, Hispanic; Madison, Black; and Olivia, White.  A few somewhat unusal choices included Melanie and Genesis on the Hispanic list;  Nevaeh, Destiny and Imani on the Black; Esther (#2!), Chaya and Miriam on the White; and Tiffany, Fiona, Angela, and Vivian on the Asian.

The Top 5 for each group are:

HISPANIC

ASHLEY

ISABELLA

EMILY

BRIANNA

MIA

BLACK

MADISON

KAYLA

MAKAYLA

NEVAEH

JADA

WHITE

OLIVIA

ESTHER

SARAH

SOPHIA

RACHEL

ASIAN

SOPHIA

CHLOE

EMILY

TIFFANY

FIONA

When it comes to the boys, a more conservative picture emerges.  Four of the top names were repeats of last years.  Jayden was #1 for Hispanic and Black boys, Daniel for Caucasian and Ryan the top choice for Asian parents, who have long had a penchant for Irish names.  There weren’t very many unexpected selections here, except possibly for Angel (Hispanic), Elijah, Jeremiah and Isaiah (Black), and Eric, Ivan and Vincent (Asian).

The top choices for each boy group were:

HISPANIC

JAYDEN

JUSTIN

ANGEL

ANTHONY

CHRISTOPHER

BLACK

JAYDEN

JOSHUA

ELIJAH

JEREMIAH

CHRISTIAN

WHITE

DANIEL

JOSEPH

MICHAEL

DAVID

MATTHEW

ASIAN

RYAN

ERIC

JASON/MATTHEW

DANIEL

ETHAN

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Baby Name Timeline

shirley-temple-w-doll

When we were preparing the article “Bizarre Baby Names: A Growing Trend?” for the July issue of  Reader’s Digest magazine that’s just hit the stands, we put together a lonnnnnng timeline of the key markers in American name history–much longer than they could possibly use with the story.  So here we offer you some of the dates and events that you won’t find in the magazine.

1620.  The Mayflower arrives bearing 102 passengers, mostly with classic English names, but also one Degory, one Resolved, one Remember, one Wrestling, and one Oceanus, who was born mid-voyage.

1750s. Enter classical names (Homer, Horace), chivalrous names (Arthur, Elaine), and romantic girls (Lavinia, Rosalind).  More boys are being called Junior.

1768. Birth of Dolley Madison, one of the increasing number of babies with nicknames on their birth certificates.

1825. John Quincy Adams is the first President to have a middle name, a rarity at this time, when it becomes fashionable to use the mother’s maiden name.

1845. The Irish famine sends masses of Bridgets and Patricks to America.

1925. Girls’ names ending in ‘s’ are fashionable–Gladys, Doris, Phyllis, Lois; also those ending in een (Kathleen) and ette (Paulette).

1946. Publication of Dr. Benjamin Spock’s The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care encourages parents to be more relaxed, confident and collaborative: husbands participate more in child care–and baby naming.

1950.  Linda unseats the seemingly unseatable Mary as the number one name for girls.

1959. First Gidget movie released; surfer dude names like Gary, Scott, Dwayne and Bruce catch the wave.

1959.  Mattel introduces the Barbie doll; other nickname names like Lori, Cindy, Sherry and Terri are hot.

1966. Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. renounces his “slave name” to become Muhammed Ali; other celebrities follow suit, influencing African-American baby naming.

1967.  Frank Zappa names his first child Moon Unit,  a seminal ‘kooky’ baby name.  Son Dweezil will follow two years later.

1968. TV westerns like Here Come the Brides, featuring brothers Jason, Jeremy and Joshua, signal a return of old cowboy names.

1974. The first issue of People magazine accelerates fascination with celebrity culture, parents start to be increasingly influenced by names stars give their babies.

1987. Movie Wall Street proclaims “Greed is good,” summing up the Go-Go 80s and inspiring Waspy surnames for boys (Carter, Parker) and androgynous exec names for all (Kyle, Blake, Blair).

1998. Parents continue to get more and more kreeatif with spellings like Adan, Austyn and Alivia all in the year’s Top 700.

2000. The Internet inspires parents to search genealogy sites for old family names.

2003. Extreme starbaby names grow more extreme–this year alone sees the arrival of Pilot Inspektor, Audio Science and Banjo.

2008. Reason returns: With economic downturn, parents look back to solid, traditional girls’ names like Ella, Grace, Olivia, and biblical boys Jacob, Ethan, Benjamin.

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African-American Heroine Names

20090126-bessie

As Black History Month segues into  Women’s History Month this weekend, we thought we’d take a look at the names of some African-American heroines.

Actually, compiling this list was not as easy as you might think (or as it should be).  Google and book searches tended to turn up only the usual suspects.  And then, late as usual, I bought my 2009 calendar from the bargain bin: A Journey Into 365 Days of Black History — Notable Women.

An array of admirable women are listed there, all of whom would provide wonderful role models (and lovely names) for any child.  The best:

ALICE Dunbar-Nelson — Journalist, poet, author.

BARBARA Jordan — Texas Congresswoman who won fame during Nixon impeachment hearings.

BESSIE Coleman — In 1922, became the world’s only licensed black pilot.  She staged flying exhibitions to fund a school to train black aviationists.

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