Ledasha, legends and race: part one

Oct 9th 2009

A new Queen of Urban Legend Names has been crowned! I first heard reports of her last year, but the sightings are coming fast and furious now. Friends, acquaintances, and total strangers write to me about her. She's the new darling of messageboards, a blog and Twitter staple, and a big hit at watercoolers around the country. If you haven't been introduced to her yet, allow me to do the honors:

My aunt/cousin/college roommate is a teacher/nurse/social worker in Georgia/Louisiana/Detroit. She had a student/patient whose name was written Le-a. She asked, "is that pronounced LAY-uh?" and the girl's mother got all offended: "It's Ledasha! The dash don't be silent!"

Now, I should be clear. I have no idea whether there really are girls named Le-a. It's certainly possible, and hard to confirm either way. Punctuation is a rising name trend but it's usually stripped out of official records, so a Le-a would be recorded simply as Lea. True or not, though, I consider this an urban legend name because the tellings of the tale make it so.

Look at the form of the story. It's widely repeated, always in the third person, with constant embellishments and no consistency to the details. (Sometimes the girl is La-a, Li-a, even Lou-a.) And to borrow a phrase from libel law, the story is told with a "reckless disregard for the truth." Sometimes the teller will even say "I don't know if this is true, but" before launching into a "can you believe how stupid that mother is" yarn.

That's the ultimate mark of an urban legend. As tellers of the tales we don't want to know if they're true or not, because we kind of suspect the answer would be not, and what fun would that be? If you don't look too closely, you get to pass the story on. My favorite example of this ostrich approach is from the book "Freakonomics," in which the authors describe their purpose as applying disciplined, rigorous analysis to social questions. Yet they repeat as fact certain well-known urban legend names -- then explain in the footnotes that it must be true because a friend of theirs swears he once overheard the names in a grocery store.

Why does it matter? We tell funny stories all the time without believing them. (Does anybody really think that a priest, a rabbi and a chicken walked into a bar?) I believe it matters in the case of urban legend names because they're not merely humor...and they're not random. They exist in a complex social setting, and they serve a subtle and consequential purpose. They are proxies for talking about race.

I am not saying that telling the story of Le-a, or Lemonjello and Oranjello, or Male and Female (that's MAH-lay and feh-MAH-lay, of course) makes you a racist. People of every color and background repeat the stories because they're clever and amusing. What I am saying is that as a group, the legend names have a context and meaning we shouldn't ignore. Or to put it another way, I haven't mentioned a word about Ledasha's race, but didn't you draw assumptions about it? And aren't those assumptions a key part of the story?

This is a big topic for me, and to do it justice in blog form I'm going to have to break it into pieces. More tomorrow...

On to part two!

Comments

51
October 9, 2009 11:49 PM

You are very welcome Spearle! Always happy to assist.

52
October 10, 2009 12:10 AM

Just a belated thank you. Several months ago I was asking for input on the name Izola. I much appreciated everyone who gave feedback! Since my husband dislikes the nn Izzy, we ultimately chose another name for our daughter--Tabitha Grace.

I don't always have time to keep up with the discussions, but I do enjoy them very much when I can! And now I'll return to my normal lurking.

53
October 10, 2009 2:37 AM

I really like the name Soren too! I don't think of "sore" at all. I know my husband wouldn't like it but I really like the sound.

54
October 10, 2009 4:20 AM

Re: Noah Leslie/Lester/Les: I like Noah Leslie best, followed by Noah Lester. They both flow nicely. I wouldn't worry about the fact that Leslie has crossed over, especially since it's a middle name and since it's not a particularly popular name for young girls. As another option, I'll offer Eliezer. I know a male Leslie (who also goes by Les), and his Hebrew name is Eliezer. It doesn't flow quite as nicely as Noah Leslie, though.

55
October 10, 2009 4:25 AM

Actually, I have to take back part of my previous comment. According to Name Voyager, Leslie is much more popular for girls at the moment than I ever imagined! It's hanging in there near the top 100. I never hear of young Leslies, though... where are they hiding? Even so, I still support using the name as a middle for your son.

56
October 10, 2009 4:28 AM

Meant to say "hanging in there in the top 150." Sorry, it's really late here on the East Coast!

57
By Anna (not verified)
October 10, 2009 4:29 AM

B'b'but... you don't "dash" names - you *hyphen* them?!? This is always my first thought when I'm introduced to Le-a (or her sister Ti-a for that matter). And then I have a strong urge - complete with high-frequency eye-twitching and all - to lecture the innocent storyteller about hyphens, normal dashes, 2 em dashes, and would you like to know about ellipses while I'm at it?

Soren (spelt Sören in Sweden, Søren in Norway and Denmark) is an old Scandinavian name, like 500 years old or so. The surnames Sörensson and Sørensen are also very common. Sören is derived from the Latin word/name Severin(us). It is presently the 6th most common male name in Denmark but it left top-50 for newborns in 2003. It was always less popular in Sweden and Norway, but is still considered a "completely normal name". It's also a typical Scandinavian name similar to Lars (from Laurentius), Nils/Niels (from Nikolaus), Jens (from Johannes), Mats/Mads (from Matthias) etc.

I quite like the "exotic" form Soren, I think it sounds good in English. I would never use Sören myself though, because while I find it a perfectly nice name there are just too many Sörens here for me to get really exited about it.

58
By HMF (not verified)
October 10, 2009 5:08 AM

Snopes does a nice job with Ledasha, etc.:

http://www.snopes.com/racial/language/le-a.asp
http://www.snopes.com/racial/language/names.asp

59
October 10, 2009 5:22 AM

cileag - Count me in on liking Soren. The only one I've met is a girl in her 20s, and my thought was "dude's name", but no one else seemed to notice.

PJ - My friend named her cat Placenta because she thought it was pretty. I do personally know this cat!

I've heard one with twins named Boy A and Boy B, Boya and Boyb. I've also heard Abcde, pronounced ab-sih-dee, but it wasn't a claim as a real person's name.

Amethyst - Tabitha Grace has a nice ring to it. Sad to see Izola go unused, but if you don't like Izzy it's a good call. I dislike it when parents play the "His name is Nicholas, not Nick" game.

I like Ta-da. Only, I would pronounce it "Ta-da!!!" and jump out from behind a door every time I introduced myself.

60
By Anna (not verified)
October 10, 2009 5:45 AM

Bianca - "I dislike it when parents play the "His name is Nicholas, not Nick" game."

I read this as if you want to decide for yourself if you are going to call someone by their name or by a nickname. Was that what you meant, or did I misread it?

61
October 10, 2009 6:34 AM

Anna - No, I just meant about names that have a very standard nickname like Nicholas/Nick, David/Dave, Jennifer/Jen, that if you really hate the nickname maybe it's too tied to the full name for you to use. The child will ultimately choose for themself, so it's fair game to find it fussy if a mother has illusions that her Nicholas will never be known as Nick.

62
By Anna (not verified)
October 10, 2009 7:16 AM

Bianca - thanks, that makes perfect sense. I agree you should probably spare yourself the pain if you absolutely cannot stand the common nicknames.

63
By Amy3
October 10, 2009 8:52 AM

@Amethyst, congrats on Tabitha Grace! I really like Tabitha, and have since my days of watching Bewitched reruns.

64
October 10, 2009 9:44 AM

Amethyst-Congrats! Tabitha Grace is lovely. Best wishes for fun with her.

65
October 10, 2009 9:48 AM

Also, I knew a girl named Keisha (worked with her). She was white but people who only talked to her on the phone and in correspondence always ASSUMED she was black. She hated the comments but liked her name.

66
October 10, 2009 10:04 AM

Tahyphena just doesn't have the same ring to it, you know, Anna? Ha ha!

67
By meppie (not verified)
October 10, 2009 10:15 AM

Re: Cordell/Kordell. The only Kordell I've ever heard of was Kordell Stewart of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He is black and played for them in the 90s.

Chimu - Rohan (instead of Rowan) could be problematic. It would frequently be pronounced Roe-HAN, as in The Lord of the Rings. In fact, one of my clients named her son Rohan and cited the book as inspiration.

68
October 10, 2009 10:25 AM

Anna-You are so informative. I never knew the difference was such a big deal and had so many rules to it. Now, after reading Wikipedia for the last half hour, I am much better informed. I love learning about stuff I wouldn't have otherwise thought about on this board. Thanks again!

69
By Anna (not verified)
October 10, 2009 11:29 AM

Zoerhenne,

There's a mile-long discussion somewhere on Wikipedia dedicated to the typographic challenges of the dashes in Parisian metro lines when the stations themselves have hyphens in the name (eg. Station-de-Start -- Station-du-Fin).
And this, http://xkcd.com/214/ is pretty much how I got there ;-)

There's a new thread, btw.

70
October 10, 2009 4:32 PM

LOL Anna-reminds me of the bing.com commercials I've been seeing lately. Meet you over on the other post.

71
By Sarah B (not verified)
October 10, 2009 8:37 PM

@Chrispy - That's also what I was referring to when saying the names aren't just about race, but also about class differences. African exchange students with mostly Anglo names are upper class, which is why they can afford to study here! I think there is derision of lower class white names too (JimBob, etc.)

72
By P. Gardiner (not verified)
October 10, 2009 10:42 PM

This just came up for me a month or so ago when school started. I saw a name I didn't know how to pronounce and asked another teacher. This lead to a discussion of some of our more unusual student names. She said she had a Le-a about 10 years ago.
I was most surprised to see that punctuation isn't always on birth records. Our local newspaper carries birth records with punctuation. I live near a large Indian Reservation and it is quite common for tribe members to give a first or middle name in their ancient tongue. These often use dashes or apostrophes to break up the syllables (these weren't traditionally written languages). This week there was an 'Ana-A-Wae Cora Rose'and last week a 'Maya Chee-Shep'

73
By Guest Robin (not verified)
October 11, 2009 9:01 AM

Cileag - I went to school with a Soren and always liked the name. The children were American citizens, but the parents were from Scandinavia, and the whole family had that distinct appearance. I don't know if generally people would be thrown by meeting, say, a little italian Soren, or if it's just me. (I also don't know how likely or unlikely it is that your potential Soren turns out 6'3", blonde and rangy.) Anyway, I like the name too. It always struck me as pleasantly masculine without being macho.

74
By Guest (not verified)
October 12, 2009 3:22 PM

Why not name the kid KirkeGaarde?

75
By Guest (not verified)
October 17, 2009 2:16 AM

I find it funny that someone would bring up race. Isn't it inherently racist to assume that Le-a's mother would be a minority as if minorities are the only group that would be ignorant enough to name a child something so ridiculous? Does the urban legend suggest a stereotypical black woman as the mother? Just a thought.

76
By Ann Weller (not verified)
October 19, 2009 2:49 PM

Our city manager's name is Soren (he's of Danish descent). I never made a connection with "sore" but possiblly kids wouIld.

77
By ajacks (not verified)
October 27, 2009 8:52 PM

How about Soran? Now that you point it out, I don't like "sore" being part of the name.

78
By ajacks (not verified)
October 27, 2009 8:57 PM

A woman I knew had twin boys in 1976. She named them Bicen and Tennial. Not an Urban Legend. The woman's boyfriend called them "The Buffalo Boys."

79
By Amanda R. B. (not verified)
October 28, 2009 12:23 PM

My mom is a librarian at a branch in an poor urban area, and she occasionally talks about the diffferent kind of names she hears when she has to enter new names in the computer. I get the impression that many of the African-American names she hears are completely unique (names she's never heard before like sisters Larisha and Lariana) and that the Caucasian names she comes across sound more "common" but that the spellings are unique (Britni and Jazmyn). I wonder if some of this is a function class or income level. It seems like the people I know from upper income families are more likely to have more classic, old-fashioned names like Charlotte and Henry. Does anyone know why this might be?

80
By LindaL (not verified)
October 30, 2009 1:39 PM

Re Cordell--though I can imagine it as an African-American name or a cowboy name, my first thought was of Cordell Hull, FDR's secretary of state. So I think it's hard to predict what assumptions people would make about that name.

81
By Elena (not verified)
November 2, 2009 10:47 AM

>Soren... It seems like a good sib for Astrid.

I have to differ.

I like the name Soren, but it does seem of a kind with the rest of the fashionable "n" names.

Coupling it with Astrid is problematic, as I have an active imagination, and "Soren and Astrid" makes me think of "sore ass."

"Soren" alone would not necessarily make me think of "sore" (though it may).

82
By Guest13 (not verified)
November 3, 2009 5:34 PM

Not an urban legend - I went to school in West Chicago, IL and two black girls in my Freshman year were named Gahnarea and Sifilis James.

That's phonetically Gonorrhea and Syphilis.

Also, Shi-thead is a real, real named.

83
By handbags shop (not verified)
December 25, 2009 10:03 AM

I'm on pins and needles for tomorrow's post!

84
By Guest (not verified)
December 28, 2009 6:03 PM

I've heard the story of Shi-thead and his brother Asshole (pronounced Ah-sholie)but I do in fact know of a person in Northeast Texas named ABC and she pronounces it Ah-Beecie...

85
By Guest (not verified)
December 28, 2009 7:50 PM

I encountered a Soren (age about 3) at the Minnesota Zoo yesterday. He is, of course, named after Soren Kierkegaard, the famous philosopher. I think everyone here would know that.

That said, I prefer Graham or Neil. Rowan sounds like a girl's name (and also vaguely druid), in my opinion.

86
By Guest (not verified)
December 28, 2009 10:24 PM

Re Soren:

It sounds like "sore end"-like what you got from birthing the baby. I'm a little inclined to think your name suggestion is a joke but thought I'd add my .02 just in case you're serious.

87
By Guest (not verified)
December 29, 2009 3:25 AM

I am going to add my .02 right behind that and say that I love Soren. For a boy or a girl it is a strong, classy name. It hasn't been tainted by a celebrity/high school slut/bully down the street, know what I mean? I had such a hard time choosing a name for my daughter because everything that I chose was someone that left a negative impression in my husband's life. I wanted Peyton for a girl (this was before Peyton Manning) but he thought it was too ethnic sounding. Then it was Madeline Rose, but a family friend (not my family, his) named their daughter that about 2 months before mine was born. So we settled on Megan Rose, and she is definitely a Megan. Kids just seem to fit their names somehow.

By the way, what about Matthew McCaunaghy (sp?) brother that named his son Miller Lyte and Penn Jillett from Penn & Teller named his daughter Moxie Crimefighter or something like that.
The best is not an urban legend though as she has appeared on television many times, it's Ima Hogg. We can't forget her!!! At least now days you kind of expect something different, back then people just didn't do that to their kids!!

88
By Guest (not verified)
December 29, 2009 9:22 AM

When deciding on names for my children, I wanted names that wouldn't stereotype them. If they wanted to become a ballerina or a CEO, the name shouldn't pigeonhole them into being too cutsie or strong. Some names are fine for certain areas of the world but what happens when "Bambi" wants to ba a supreme court judge and "Bubba" wants to be President or a Foreign Ambassador? This is my opinion however,take it for what it's worth to you.

89
By meg (not verified)
December 29, 2009 2:23 PM

I know for a fact that there are Le-as out there. My roommate is an elementary school teacher and I am nurse in a NICU (neonatal intensive care unit - sick babies). Believe me we've seen some out there ones.

MyLaDeSia
MyDeLaSia (those two were twins - mom flip-flopped the middle syllables)
MyKing
MyKilo (the My names were all from the same mom. My cuz they were "her" kids)
phonetically it was Caleb, but spelled with 10 letters

I know I'm currently blocking out some of the worst offenders, but those are a handful of the ones I've seen.

And Soren is a Scandanavian name meaning severe.

90
By kate66 (not verified)
January 13, 2010 10:16 PM

For you people who think you don't 'profile' -

In this week's newspaper from my town there was a birth announcement for a baby named

Na’Laya Ty’Lee

Parents are Asia and Tysheed, and the baby was welcomed home by siblings Jaysiah, 8, Nevaeh, 4, Na’Ari, 3, and Jamie, 5.

All siblings had different last names (although the 5-year-old had the same last name as the new baby). Don't tell me you read that and didn't guess what color they are.

91
By emanruoy (not verified)
January 24, 2010 5:30 PM

My friend worked at a YMCA and claimed to have met a little girl named Le-a. I believed her, as she's not the type to make things up. I suggested &ra as an appropriate sibling name (pronounced "Ampersandra", of course).

92
By Guest (not verified)
February 1, 2010 12:53 AM

I will confirm at least one name of Le-a. I work at juvenile hall and saw a minor with this as the first name. I have also seen a "Chase Manhattan." I only saw the paperwork on this, and did not meet the individuals in question...

93
By Guest (not verified)
April 2, 2010 9:23 PM

I'm a pediatrician who took care of a baby boy named Pron. I pronounced it as "prawn" only to be reprimanded that the baby's name was "Ron" with a silent "P". Obviously.

94
By Apollo (not verified)
April 15, 2010 2:26 PM

I don't think silencing jokes is the answer, in fact our principles of freedom of speech compel us to protect them even if we call them racist and/or culturally insensitive. This isn't just a minority issue, millions of people log on to, and have read "stuff white people like." The truth is, there are stereotypical elements to every demographic. I'm more afraid of the mind police who tell you what not to think and say, than I am of people telling innapropriate jokes.

95
By JAtt (not verified)
May 7, 2010 12:20 PM

Spearle: I think Cordell is okay, but just wanted to suggest the name Colt. I knew a guy with that name once and always thought it was very cowboy sounding.

96
May 8, 2010 3:30 PM

Still looking over the "beyond the top 1000 list". I saw "Adasha" ranked 17181 and thought of this old post. I looked and didn't find a single Ledasha, "-" or not.

97
By Guest (not verified)
June 29, 2010 5:15 PM

I went to school with a Colton.

I also went to school with a girl named Vagina Thompson. Seriously.

98
September 7, 2010 7:30 AM

Dungeons & Dragons came out with a gothic horror world called Ravenloft, and it's chock full of witchlike names. I can talk more about that later tiffany co jewelry

99
By Sore end (not verified)
September 22, 2010 3:03 PM

don't do that to your poor child.

100
By Asia (not verified)
September 26, 2010 10:33 AM

I grew up with ppl making fun of my name...nowadays there is Asia used as a prefix and suffix of names Fantasia Anastasia Asianay Nyasia.....I love my name. I went to school with a girl name Love Ann Peace I never really knew how to react other wow thats unique