Category: black names
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:
- 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)
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.
JESSIE Redmon Fauset—called by Langston Hughes a “mid-wife” of African-American literature, she was the literary editor of Crisis magazine and was the first black woman to be elected to Phi Beta Kappa.
MARITA Bonner, whose writing dealt with issues of race, gender and class.
Also considered part of the Harlem Renaissance were such entertainers as:
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:
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:
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:
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.
1845. The Irish famine sends masses of Bridgets and Patricks to America.
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.
1974. The first issue of People magazine accelerates fascination with celebrity culture, parents start to be increasingly influenced by names stars give their babies.
2000. The Internet inspires parents to search genealogy sites for old family names.
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:
BESSIE Coleman — In 1922, became the world’s only licensed black pilot. She staged flying exhibitions to fund a school to train black aviationists.
CHARLOTTE Ray — In 1872, became the first black female lawyer.
CONSTANCE Baker Motley — First black female federal judge.
FAYE Wattleton — Women’s rights activist.
JOSEPHINE Baker — Politically-minded entertainer who was the Angelina Jolie of her day.
KARA Walker — Artist best known for her silhouettes.
LENA Horne — Actress, singer, and civil rights activist.
MABEL Mercer — English singer.
MAHALIA Jackson — Gospel singer.
MARIAN Wright Edelman — Children’s Defense Fund founder.
NATALIE Hinderas — Composer and classical musician.
PEARL Bailey — Actress and singer.
PHILLIS Wheatley — First published African-American female poet. The name Phillis or Phyllis, the Roman goddess of spring, was typical of the classical names given to early African-Americans.
PRUDENCE Crandall — White woman arrested for teaching black girls at her school in 1833.
ROSA Parks — Heroine of the famous bus boycott that launched the civil rights movement.
RUBY Dee — Actress.
SHIRLEY Chisholm — First black woman elected to Congress.
SOJOURNER Truth — Abolitionist and women’s rights activist.
TONI Morrison — Novelist who won the Nobel Prize in literature.
WILMA Rudolph — Olympic runner.