The long arc of Kanye West’s short life encompasses many events, incidents and affairs that make for a good case that he is egotistical, big-headed and clearly delusional about his self-appointed high place in the scheme of things. The headline news that West and girlfriend Kim Kardashian named their baby “North,” aroused widespread interest. “So what!” I say. Black people have been giving their offspring unusual and uncommon handles for generations. Blue Ivy Carter – the name West’s friends Jay-Z and Beyoncé gave to their daughter – is no less not so much a big deal?
The name he and girlfriend Kim Kardashian chose for their newborn daughter, North, is no less offbeat, uncommon, or weird than what some black people have been naming their children for as long as I can remember. It may fall on their deaf ears, but parents like Kanye and Jay-Z should know that it’s much more important how you raise children than what fancy names you give them.
North isn’t all that strange. Many females in my hometown had Mae – or was it May – as their middle name; so much so that Annie, Clara, Eula, Fannie, Gertie, Hattie, Katie, Lilly, Mattie, Ruthie, Sallie, Vertie and Willie were assured that their first and middle names were always pronounced as one. North West, Kanye and Kim, whether you decide to call her Nori or not, will be pronounced – as you really intended – as one word, like the airline.
In our town, there was a girl named Julester, a boy named Alaska and fellows named Porter, Humes and Jim Bob. Girls were named for their fathers: Willamena, Charlesa, Thomasina. I never heard anyone expound on their names the way Kim and Kanye have explained and expanded on the name North. It is “more inspirational” than “directional” they say. Gag me with a silver spoon!
I know my humble parents knew nil, zilch, zero about the French Revolution or that she was executed by guillotine when they named my sister Marie Antoinette seven decades ago.
“Why not Marcus Antonius to get it right?” I should have said to my parents when they named my brother Mark Anthony back in 1950. Tony, we call him, didn’t turn out to be a military commander and administrator and nor did he become friends with anybody as well-known as Julius Caesar, but he made Mom and Dad quite proud when he hung his shingle, triumphantly, as an accountant four decades ago.
In recent years, African Americans took to unusual Africanized and Arabized names. Malik and Kwame and Kofi and Chike and Kenyatta have become almost conventional, ordinary and normal names among blacks. Our son, Hodari, named his daughter Africa – which, by the way, my mother went to her grave thinking was a grimly bad choice. She didn’t too much like the names we gave our oldest son (Kenyatta) and only daughter (Kisha) either.
Kanye and Kim should take another look, if they ever did, at a turn on Juliet’s timeless line to Romeo: “What’s in a name?”
That which we call North, by any name, we must give our best parental direction.
Bill Turner is a Texas-based educator and freelance writer.