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Why do names get so racialised?

MISTAKE: Tyson Fury was named after a black man, but then the original was convicted of rape

APART FROM the boxer Tyson Fury, I cannot think of any white guy who is named after a black guy. Can you?

No, I thought not. Because it doesn’t happen. Never. Ever.

And in the case of Tyson Fury, well, on reflection, naming your baby son after one of the most discredited heavyweight champions of all time might now be considered a mistake. A monumental one. But how were they to know?

At the time, Mike Tyson had not been convicted of rape and sent to jail.

It wasn’t until baby Tyson was two years old that Iron Mike was arrested for the sexual assault on 18-year-old Desiree Washington. It wasn’t until eight or nine months later that he was convicted and sent to jail.

One can only imagine that Tyson Fury’s dad, ‘Gypsy’ John Fury, at this point in 1992 was probably thinking: “Oh no... oh no, oh no, what have I done to my little three-year-old toddler by giving him the name of a convicted rapist? I should have just called him John, like me, or Junior or Sue, for all I care.

“At least giving him a girl’s name will make him tough. Tougher than Tyson. A boy named Sue will have to fight his way through life because everybody else will be taking the mickey out of him.

“But to call him Tyson and then with Tyson going to jail for these despicable crimes, my little son is going to have to go through life with people thinking of the disgraced sex offender Mike Tyson, rather than the former world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, as I had initially intended.”

Or words to that effect.

Yes, a colossal mistake in naming, and one that no doubt stands as a warning for every white father to think carefully before naming your child after some black dude.

You know how it go already in this world: anything negative that a black man does is like a human stain on the rest of us bruvvas.

Like it or not. Like I said, though, white folks weren’t naming their children after black guys anyway.

I never hear of any white folks who gave their children the name Muhammad Ali. Or Cassius Clay, for that matter. Cassius may have been a Roman character from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (one ah dem bad boys that shanked the emperor in the back in the days when Ancient Rome was trying to tackle all the knife crime that was rampant in the empire – ain’t nothing new, baby), but from the moment a famous black guy sported that name, it’s like white civilisation said “Cassius is a black thang – we wouldn’t understand it”.

It was immediately added to the unwritten list of names that demarcates who gets which names.

And the same goes for Floyd. Floyd Patterson, one of the greatest boxers ever, was so popular in Sweden because the great white hope Ingemar Johansson laid a glove on him and knocked him down to become world champion.

In this one respect, Swedes loved the loser almost as much as they loved the winner. And even though there were many Ingemars christened in Sweden in 1959, the year Johansson won the title, Floyd as a name had become exclusively black by then.

In fact, the only white Floyd I have ever known predates the emergence of Floyd Patterson by a year or two.

Lloyd too, of course, has become a black name by default. As has Sonny (Liston), Evander (Holyfield), Leon (Spinks) or Marvin (Hagler). Let’s not forget Lennox (Lewis). Of course, it’s not just the names of world boxing champions that are unofficially racialised.

What’s in a name, you ask – a Rashida or Kwame by any other name would smell as sweet.

Yes, you say that, but if that was really the case why don’t white folks ever call their children Kwame?

We don’t have any qualms about calling our children John and Jim and Janet and Jane or even Lancelot.

In fact, many of us insist on giving our children names that would otherwise be designated ‘white’.

You just have to see the number of Kennedy or Nelsons there are, not least from West Africa.

The reggae deejay Prezedent’s given name is Kennedy Mensah and the author of the current bestselling Think Like A White Man satire is Nelson Abbey. No prizes for guessing who they were named after.

I mean, the most famous South African the world has ever known was named after a British admiral of the fleet – and yet I cannot think of a single white South African named Mandela or Buthelezi or even Sipho. Or even Winnie. I cannot even imagine a white person with the Christian name Nelson any more. Once upon a time it was not uncommon.

The Hollywood star Nelson Eddy for example. Or the jazz bandleader Nelson Riddle.

It’s the same with women’s names.

I don’t know why or when names like Marcia or Yvonne or Paulette became black, they just are.

It seems that the racialisation of women’s names is more about critical mass than necessarily about famous Naomis or Vanessas.

At some point, I don’t know how or when, some female names are perceived to reach a level of ubiquity amongst black women that you expect someone who bears the name to not be white.

Even common names like Sharon and Karen, as estuary as they once were, in London at least you expect to see a black face when you hear those names.

Likewise with names like Jennifer, Jacqueline and June and so many others which have not yet become ‘black’, but expect them to be in the next 20 years.

Meanwhile, I cannot think of many ‘white’ names that black folks wouldn’t name their children.

I have come across a black Enoch, though. Can you believe it? And of course I was at school with a black Angus McLeod. Nuff said.

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