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

101
By NikkiB (not verified)
September 26, 2010 3:01 PM

Dijonnaise was the name of a Black cartoon character on the show The Proud Family.

102
By arwen719 (not verified)
September 26, 2010 3:01 PM

I actually met people whose daughter was named Placenta in Colombia.

103
By Ohiopeach211 (not verified)
September 26, 2010 4:24 PM

That Shi-Thead name came from a comedians skit on Comedy Central. He also told the joke about the Cuban woman swimming to freedom who vowed to name her unborn baby after the first thing she saw in the US....the child's name wound up being USNavy(oosnaavee).

Now for my story...how about the twin boys here in Ga named Orangejello and Yellowjello (translated that's Orangelo & Yelangelo). They attended Corley Elementary School, my former neighbor was one of their Kindergarten teachers.

104
By Laurent Ritter (not verified)
November 4, 2010 8:46 PM

Ok, that was really funny. In any case, yes, I consider we should be careful about racist implications of certain jokes like these. However, I don't think we should go all "politically correct" to the extremes of "protecting" minorities, from stuff that's more in a few people's minds than anything else.
Laurent Ritter
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105
By moncler jackets (not verified)
November 29, 2010 3:34 AM

Now for my story...how about the twin boys here in Ga named Orangejello and Yellowjello (translated that's Orangelo & Yelangelo). They attended Corley Elementary School, my former neighbor was one of their Kindergarten teachers.

106
By asdfghjkl; (not verified)
December 8, 2010 6:19 PM

well my best friends name is Al-a so that is true

107
By andrea L (not verified)
December 19, 2010 1:45 PM

Maybe its not always making fun or being racist. Its possible that its the embarrassment the child goes through because some parent thought the spelling was cute. I know a woman with 2 children: Cedar and Fir. One is a boy one a girl and she gets upset if you don't know which is which. Only explanation: drugs or brain dead.

Instead of Andrea if my parents were gamers they could have used 4ndr34 (leet). Not cute, not neat. Plain stupid.

Soren is a decent name. I think most people will miss the 'sore' just as they do for Loren, no one thinks of folk lore do they?

108
By RoPo (not verified)
January 4, 2011 12:30 PM

I once heard of a boy named Quevehan, pronounced Kevin.

109
By Tfairy (not verified)
January 11, 2011 2:11 PM

I know someone who has named her daughters Lorner and Dekoder, I'm assuming she meant Lorna and Dakota...d'oh!

Another girl I know has named her daughters Desternie and Kaightlyn - silly spellings of otherwise pretty names.

110
By paragon casual furniture (not verified)
January 25, 2011 10:25 PM

I have a son named Adam. He's a wonderful kid.

111
By C. Andrews (not verified)
February 15, 2011 5:07 PM

The only outlandishly racist thing I see in the story is the "ebonics"-style speech from the alleged mother of the child ("the dash don't be silent"). Even without that obvious cue, I'm afraid I'd still associate a "La-a" with a specific ethnicity ... because it mimics the naming style that many black parents use: the opening "La/Le/D'/De" particle, followed by either a single syllable, or a two-syllable word with the first syllable accented.

So are there real La-as, Shi-theads, Oranjellos, Lemonjellos, and Placentas out there? I won't believe it until I see a birth certificate ... but I also wouldn't doubt it either. People give their kids stupid names, regardless of ethnicity.

112
By Guestopo (not verified)
February 19, 2011 4:18 PM

I don't think just repeating, or sharing the stories of the strange names themselves are necessarily racist. Some of the stories though, like the part of the 'la-a' story that goes "the dash don't be silent," are pretty obvious in their racist message.

113
By Whitehat (not verified)
March 2, 2011 10:16 AM

I swear to you that this is true. Not someone told me. Not "I heard." It really happened. I was leaving the men's locker room in the YMCA in Suffolk, Virginia. As I went out the door a very agitated woman strode over to the women's locker room door, opened it and screamed, "Urethra, you get out here right now. We got to go." I thought I had misheard her. But then she said, "Do you hear me Urethra? I know you hear me. Urethra; GET YOUR BUTT OUT HERE RIGHT NOW." It was all I could do to not laugh.

114
By Tea-chur (not verified)
March 2, 2011 1:09 PM

I am a high school teacher. I work at a school that is predominantly African American and Latino. These names are the real deal. I have had a Le-a, a Dijonaise, a Merlot, a Chardonnay, Seven ( Yes, as a name). Many names are spelled so creatively that their phonetics have taken on a life of there own and no longer represent the correct letter-sound correlation. Whether you decide to place judgement on these names is your decision, but these names are really.

115
By Reignbeau (not verified)
March 2, 2011 2:05 PM

I am with you on the Cordell thing, as with the "ell" & "elle". To me it is not AA, I have friend name Cordell (corei) for short and she is a white female along with her sister Kevyn(Kevin) yes she is a girl to. I like the name Cordell as a western name for a boy Wyatt Cordell... However I am not feeling the name Soren= Sore end...but its all in how you look at it Soar as an eagle.... But I do like Cordell.

116
By Reignbeau (not verified)
March 2, 2011 2:05 PM

I am with you on the Cordell thing, as with the "ell" & "elle". To me it is not AA, I have friend name Cordell (corei) for short and she is a white female along with her sister Kevyn(Kevin) yes she is a girl to. I like the name Cordell as a western name for a boy Wyatt Cordell... However I am not feeling the name Soren= Sore end...but its all in how you look at it Soar as an eagle.... But I do like Cordell.

117
By Almeta (not verified)
April 29, 2011 7:16 PM

My mother is a labor and delivery nurse and while working in a hospital in central Illinois encountered a woman who named her child Tequila. After asking about darling little Tequila's last feeding, my mother was promptly informed that "It's pronounced Te-qwee-la!"

118
By Nig Gar (not verified)
May 12, 2011 4:42 PM

I thought it was a black name, and I was right. How can she get welfare benefits without a real name? Her mom must have been watching Maury or busy not getting a job application.

119
By altadea (not verified)
August 10, 2011 12:15 PM

Aquanetta is a real one. At my last job, my regional manager's name was Aquanetta. I had trouble not laughing when she introduced herself to me.

120
By ElisabethMorgan (not verified)
August 16, 2011 12:44 AM

Oh this comment is so long ago and I hope you are still around. Having ready the article and every comment yours is the one that made me want to reply right away and say, "Brilliant!" I love &ra. Total Genius.

121
By De'Kynrtstal Jnesgrlokbabykwl (not verified)
August 31, 2011 11:40 PM

Luk srsly dis nms are so btfl, mh best frnd es nme is la-a, iz so grt, my and la-a are lk bffls we gr shping tgthr and ppl lv hr nme!

Lurve Deh'Krestel

122
By Brenna (not verified)
September 16, 2011 2:10 PM

I didn't think of any particular race when I heard this "story". Either I'm just an equal opportunity racist or it's just that stupid is so wide spread these days that I don't equate it with any particular group. Hello, Apple- Gweneth Paltrow!
I have a dream that one day stupid will be recognized for what it truly is, and that it comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors! ;P

123
By nova (not verified)
September 17, 2011 1:04 PM

I used to babysit twins named Calvin and Kalvin... They were usually called by their initials (CJ and KD respectively).

Never met a Ladasha but I've met several Latashas, as well as siblings LaStaysha and LaLa. I didn't really find them outlandish, though I imagine LaLa had to put up with a lot of teletubby jokes.

"Creative" spellings irk me just as much as invented names, though. It's one thing to change it slightly so people aren't constantly mispronouncing it (Rhys to Reese, Lea to Lee/Leigh or Leah, Madeleine to Madolyn, etc), but Cyndi, Bryttanie, McKenzy, Karli, Hillareigh, Tehlurr (yes really) all need to die. It might be cute when you're 8, but it's just embarrassing when you're 30... Unless the resulting discrimination leads them to become unemployed and illiterate mothers at 12, and the cycle continues...

124
By Ben (not verified)
April 8, 2012 11:04 PM

I have actually met someone with an "urban legend name". His name was Long Duong (pronounced Long Dong). I met him at my all-state chorus, and because I didn't belive that was his name at first, I checked the program, and, sure enough, that actually was his name.

125
By hi there (not verified)
May 14, 2012 2:52 PM

Toren is nice, too.

126
By Auty (not verified)
June 6, 2012 4:41 PM

Funny, because minorities in America are actually the majority now. There are more 'white' or 'caucasian' people that are part hispanic, black, etc. than those that know, for a fact, beyond a shadow of a doubt that their liniage is completely English, German, Scottish, French, etc. with no 'darker' races having been married/bred in, even is it's only 1/16th. Many seem like they would prefer to forget that.

129
January 28, 2013 9:12 PM

In the story I heard from my friend's brother. In the version I heard, it was spelled La-ha, and La-ha was a student at a school. There was some sort of parent-teacher meeting before the school-year started, and the teacher read La-ha's name from the list, and did her best to pronounce it. La-ha's mom laughed (a sort of that's-so-cute-she-doesn't-know way) and explained, "Oh no no, you pronounce the dash."

130
June 26, 2013 3:56 AM

Tried to delete. Won't let me.

131
June 26, 2013 3:50 AM

Doubting La-a

I was at a cookout last weekend at the home of a former student of mine, and was sharing stories with a woman there who was also a teacher, when she mentioned her student “LeDasha.” I sat bolt upright, and asked her how she spelled that. When she gave me “La-a,” I shouted, “She exists! She really exists!”

You see, I had heard of that girl from another friend of mine, but simply passed it off as an apocryphal FOAF story. But here was someone who actually had the girl as a student in her classroom.

And here’s what’s even more important: Neither time that I heard the story was the phrase “The dash don’t be silent” part of the narrative. It was just a story about some of the strange names out there.

When I posted on Facebook that I’d finally verified the mythical La-a, a friend of mine sent me a link to your piece, and that’s why I’m writing.

When I first heard the story, did I immediately think that the bearer was black? Of course I did. Does that make me even the slightest bit racist? Absolutely not. You see, I’m black, and I know some of the names that are out there. Those “improvised ethnic names” (or as some of us call them, “those damned –eesha names”) that started becoming fashionable in the late 70s. I know that La-a was as likely to be black as Shoshana was to be Jewish. Simple statistical fact.

But while we’re talking about that, my oldest daughter’s name is Devra…a common Jewish variant of the name which from the Hebrew alephbet can be rendered as Deborah, Debora, Debra, Devorah, Devora, or her own Devra, depending on who’s doing the transliterating. We chose that name because having a painfully common name myself, I didn’t want my daughter to suffer from being one of 10 Sarahs (or Saras) in the same room (and yet my wife insisted on naming our other daughter Sofia…who laments that everyone has her name). It was the name that a former grad student of mine had, and while being different, it wasn’t over the top weird. A friend of mine who knew it was Hebrew objected to the name on the grounds that others might think it was one of those “damned –eesha names.” But we knew what it was, and Devra is Devra.

You go on to tell the stories about the children named Lemonjello and Orangello, and Male and Female. And you speak of them as being proxies for talking about race. I could also tell you about the woman who named her child Placenta. I heard all of these stories from my brother-in-law, who is an off-the-boat Italian as names that immigrants, or "greenhorns" who are unfamiliar with the language, give their kids. Racial context here? I think not. Subtext of ignorance? Yeah.

I also recall reading in the newspaper many years ago of the Indian (that’s dot, not feather) family that named their child Skylab, as we all waited for that space station to tumble to earth. Racial/ethnic subcontext there? No…just a story about an amusing name choice.

And then there was the woman I met at a wedding whose name was Vendetta. Yes…Vendetta. She said, “You know, like those things Italians have. My father wanted a boy, and when I turned out not to be one, he named me Vendetta.” And yes…she was black. Sometimes you really can’t make this stuff up. 

Regarding Shithead, I had also heard that story, but not as one of a “black” name, but of a classic Middle Eastern name with a rather unfortunate spelling. And I was willing to believe it because of the simple fact that I know a European-American woman who is married to a man from India, and they had huge problems choosing names for their kids. I think that she may have overstated the case, but she told me that any English name they liked meant something offensive in Hindi, and any Hindi name they liked was similarly offensive in English. I saw the list of Hindi names, and had to agree with her. Gopu may be a perfectly acceptable name in Bangalore, but if you give your kid that name in Rice Lake, WI, he’s gonna be teased mercilessly by his classmates…especially when he asks for a bathroom pass…”Hey, Gopu…are you gonna go poo?”

When she was in fifth grade, my daughter came home one day telling us that there was a girl at school named Viagra. I was a teacher at the school, and knew that there was certainly no such student, otherwise we all would’ve heard about it in the faculty lounge. It was also a very expensive private school, and my wife said, “There may indeed be some poor kid whose parents named her Viagra, but she’s not at this school.” This, of course implied that Viagra would’ve been a “ghetto name,” and let’s face it…it would’ve been. But my daughter was insistent. She took a copy of the school directory and was going to find Viagra and prove to us that she was right. A few minutes later she came out of the study and sheepishly said, “Oops…wrong drug…it’s Allegra.”

First of all, it’s worth noting that Allegra was a girl’s name long before it was a brand of allergy medication. Second, my wife is a nurse, so Devra would have more of a familiarity with drug names than the average kid. To her the idea that there was a girl named Viagra wasn’t about someone being named after a “sex drug,” it was the same to her as a boy being named Zoloft.

But getting back to La-a, she’s definitely out there. I not only had that confirmed by someone who had her as a student, but by a friend who’s a retired police officer…and who ran into another La-a in a town 120 miles away. Apparently teachers and police officers run into names that you wouldn’t believe.

Speaking of which, I met a student once who told me that his name was Sargon. I put my foot in my mouth big time when I assumed he was messing with me by giving me what I thought was a “Power Rangers name.” Apparently it’s quite a common name in the part of the world that his family is from.

Finally, one of your respondents said something about a state law that said that one of the requirement for being registered for kindergarten was that the child had to be able to spell his or her own name, and that people who gave their kids all these outlandish polysyllabic names were just setting them up for early failure. I don’t buy this…at least I don’t buy that this rule exists, and here’s why: There are many first generation immigrant families who give their children names that are traditional in that culture that have more letters than you could shake a stick at. I find it hard to believe that anyone expected little Greek Tirandafilli to spell her name at age five. And what about little Italian Vincenzo?

But enough already. I just had to respond to your post that seemed to cast doubt on the who La-a thing, and tried to cast it in the framework of some insidious racist tendencies on our part. I’m black, those names are out there, and it is what it is.

And now I'm going back to bed.

132
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I've always loathed the kind of cruel name discussions that allow the participants to feel superior to the hapless namers being derided, whether it's minority racial groups, the socially disadvantaged, Mormons, residents of the Mountain West, or whatever group is being targeted.

Those taking mirthful shots at these usually defenseless namers are revealing more about themselves than they perhaps realize...

Interestingly, I've personally encountered very few, if any, of the "urban legends" referenced above. I wonder if they get the most circulation in the Internet community, with its assumption of anonymity and no accountability for crass, low and just plain "tacky" behavior?


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148
August 2, 2014 5:54 AM

This unit land price is believed to be similar to the last round, when the property was offered for sale through a tender exercise that closed last July. Evia real estate lakelife

149
August 12, 2014 4:42 AM

But transaction volumes staged a strong rebound as buyers returned to the resale market after the Chinese New Year lull. punggol new ec amore

150
August 29, 2014 4:50 AM

The latest sales of new HDB flats that have been launched in Toa Payoh are asking top price for 4 room units. westwood residences