There is an interesting conversation about the name Mamie going on in one of the Name Games threads, which some of the mods thought would be worth moving to its own thread, since it's buried pretty deep and not everybody reads the Name Games. 

  • (Page 7, starting at comment 341)
  • So let's open up the discussion. What do you think are the racial implications of the name Mamie?
  • I'll also take this opportunity to remind everyone to please be civil. It's a sensitive topic, and other people may have very different perceptions from yours based on their own experiences. Please respect that. Please also respect that we are inviting everyone to participate in this discussion regardless of their background, and the point of this exercise is to facilitate discussion/learning, not shut it down. 


November 28, 2017 2:33 PM

If I hadn't read the Name Games thread, I would be like "racial implications of Mamie? Eh? Is there a side of Mrs. Eisenhower that's been swept under the rug or something?" Turns out, the trouble is the similarity with Mammy.

I dunno, to me there isn't much similarity, and if I hear "Mamie", I totally do not think of "Mammy" (and vice versa: on my own, I would have never gone from "Mammy" to "Mamie"). The only problem I have with Mamie as a name is that it's too nicknamey, and doesn't give the bearer the flexibility that, say, Mary-called-Mamie would. But I'm white, so I doubtless have difference associations than someone whose grandma or great-grandma had personal experience with the Mammy role.

(I rented Hidden Figures recently and made my mom watch it. She was appalled at the overt displays of racism, and sympathized with the "I know you believe that [you have nothing against colored people]" line... all without ever realizing that her own, more covert but just as real, racist beliefs are just as reprehensible. But it did make me wonder what reprehensible beliefs I've internalized and self-justified...)

November 28, 2017 4:51 PM

There is a pronuncation difference as well as a spelling difference in this name.  My great grandmother's name was Mamie (and I knew her well, she lived to 105).  She was born in the 1870's to a real jerk of a father, who was a member of the KKK and an abusive husband/father.  He would never have named or allowed his daughter to be named a deragatory term he would use for a black person, that just doesn't make sense. 


I agree that Mamie can be a little soft and nickname like.  I have no problem with that.  I have a problem with calling a name that is not racist, racist.  I have a problem with people saying that I am racist for defending the name. 


Thank you for reminding people to be respectful here and to not attack one another.

November 28, 2017 5:22 PM

As a Jewish person, I understand persecution. I understand the power that words and names can have and how a name can make you feel sick to your stomach or send chills down your spine. I have absolute and complete sympathy and empathy for people who experience such reactions to certain names. However, Mamie and mammy are not the same name. Yes, I can understand how they could feel uncomfortably close, I really do, but no matter how uncomfortable the name makes one feel, I do not think it fair or just to ascribe racist motivations to someone who uses it or defends it -- because, again, it's not the same name. It's not even like they're spelled the same way but pronounced differently. In today's political climate, someone who uses Mamie may be seen as culturally insensitive, but should Mamie be added to the list of unusable names? Someone might want to honour an ancestor and I can understand how being told that they aren't "allowed" to do so could be upsetting -- especially since it isn't the same name. I can understand why an Indian person would name a child Aryan without taking it as a personal affront or ascribing anti-Semitic intentions or undertones and I think that the same grace could be extended to someone using the name Mamie.

November 28, 2017 7:36 PM

Karyn, did you notice the comment that Shoshannah was too much, just too much? That struck me immediately. In what way is Shoshannah more of a much than Susannah? Shall I call that out as anti-Semitism? And then a following comment didn't like the sound of Shira--ironic because Shira comes from the root for song. So are we seeing some sort of hostility to Jews in these comments? I don't think so.

OTOH as most here know I would gladly scratch the eyes out of anyone who named a child Cohen, that is, if eye scratching were legal and I were tall enough to reach. The use of Cohen by those not entitled to it is in my mind cultural (mis)appropriation of the worst sort.

As for Mamie, my nickname, which I have used way more than my formal name, is Mimi, like Mamie and mammy, two syllables, same consonant, different vowels. I grew up in the Eisenhower years and was frequently called Mamie, perhaps as a deliberate annoyance and political statement and perhaps as a matter of the same confusion and ignorance that led people to call me Mitzi, Mindy, Minnie, and the like. Didn't like Mamie then, don't like it now, but I never saw it used in any sort of racial context. In those days there WERE names used in derogatory racial contexts, like Eugene, Tyrone, and Marcus, but Mamie wasn't one of them. It was all Mrs. Eisenhower.

November 28, 2017 9:58 PM

OK, now you have me wondering what derogatory racial context could be attached to Eugene, Tyrone, and Marcus...

November 29, 2017 2:30 AM

When and where I grew up these names were used for stereotypical African-American men, for example, for characters in racist jokes. I don't know whether these names were used in this context in other times and places. A more recent example would be the use of a name like Shaniqua as a character in a racist joke.

November 29, 2017 10:11 AM

No, I missed those gems. To be honest, I didn't read that post beyond the relevant conversation (or have any interest in reading most of the current games on the forum) because I find the whole thing to be rather mean-spirited and rude. 

November 29, 2017 10:23 AM

I am the one that said that about Shoshannah.  I can tell you it has NOTHING to do with anti-semitism.  I just think it's a lot of name.  I wasn't comparing it to Susannah (which I also am not a big fan of for the same reason).  I know you aren't saying that I have some hostility to Jews, but I did want to clear that up that you are right and it has nothing to do with that.  I also would never pick a traditionally Jewish name for my child because I am not Jewish. 

November 28, 2017 5:48 PM


On the Name Mamie, my first incounter with this name was while working in a Nursing home one of our residents had this name. When I first heard the name I did hear Mammy, I thought it was a nickname. On her first full moon with us she rolled under her bed screaming and biting at herself and others, this would be a repeat performance. Very reministant of exorist type movies, there was blood and everything so I think devil possession when I hear it and can't ever imagine using it on a child.

As for racial undertones, I'm really not sure I mean I know the context of a Mammy. I guess based on personal expirence my Aunts call my Grandmother this so I look at it more redneck slang for thier mother. My moms family is white and red necky.  I grew up in a very racially diverse neighborhood that does have an extreme history of racial tension including the dredging up of the 69 riots to a national level in the late 90's early 2000's. I don't ever remember hearing anyone use Mammy even in elementry school yard 'cuts'. Jemima well that was another story.

November 28, 2017 6:22 PM

I went and read through the other thread and rather than delete or edit what I originally wrote I thought I just add my new thoughts so people can maybe see and understand each other better.  I agree that to me Mamie did not feel like a racist name even the word Mammy did not hold the same weight that other derogatory words do for ME. ME, not the bigger society that I am a part of.  After reading all the comments and thinking on them I feel sadden that a name that is loved by many holds a different meaning to others that makes that name unusable. I love the name Isis myself it has a long history that existed strongly for a long time before it became something different I.S.I.S. is agruably a different name then Isis however the thoughts and feelings associated with that name are forever changed and thats a heavy weight to lay on another person. As I stated earlier personal associations would never had me considered Mamie for a name but through many wonderful threads on this site I've also been given a different understanding of names like Cohen and because of that I would rule out similar names like Coen.  Still loving that name for its own merit is not being a racist.  We all keep asking sometimes shouting to be truely heard and respected, sometimes that means giving up something that holds an importance to us as well.   Please know that I respect both views on this and whats stated above is my personal views only. 

By eroy
November 28, 2017 10:11 PM

Look up Mamie Phipps Clark. She was an influential African American psychologist born in 1917. Were her parents aware of the "extremely racially insensitive" connotations of this name? Did they hate their own people? Were they just idiots who had no clue? Or did they not associate the name with the unrelated racist term in question? One of these options has to be the truth.

November 29, 2017 4:41 AM

I know they are different names, and seen in isolation it would never occur to me to see Mamie as racist. I have to admit though, that within minutes of reading the post, I was humming a song that I thought was called "Mamie," (an Al Jolson track from a CD I had of music in old movies) and which turns out, very unfortunately, to be called "Mammy" and sung in black face. Oof.

I did find a nice Muddy Waters song called "Mamie" in the process however, suggesting again that the problem is not in the name but in our interpretation of it.

November 29, 2017 10:13 AM

I keep getting the Broadway song Mame stuck in my head (full, imagined kick-line and all).

EDIT: Seriously, it's been in my head for hours. I can't get rid of it!

November 29, 2017 3:48 PM

I think this "oops, the song about Mamie is really Mammy!" really drives home the fact that Mamie and Mammy are easily misheard. If the endless Mary/marry/merry conversations here haven't taught us anything, it's that vowels (especially the a) are notoriously squishy and easily interchanged for some... and not for others. This explains why Muddy Waters and the parents of the psychologists didn't have a problem, but others are much more touchy. 

 I think Mimi is distinct enough, in terms of the shape my mouth makes, that it's far less likely to be misheard... but I think that the burden on me, as a white lady, is to knock it off with names that are perceived by others as being racial slurs, even in cases where I myself don't see the connection as clearly.

Thus, now, I would find Mamie unusable by me for a baby in 2017, personally... even though I see no problem with grandma Mamie or the psychologist or Ms Eisenhower.

November 29, 2017 3:49 PM

And a big thanks for moving the dialog over here, as the name games board and its general tone also set my teeth on edge.

November 29, 2017 4:38 PM


BTW you would think that Mimi would be simple enough to see and say, but not necessarily so. It's mee-mee, but that doesn't stop some people from saying mim-ee which drives me up the wall.

November 29, 2017 5:00 PM

I was today reading some library books selected by my children and not at all by me, introducing me to the world of Hello Kitty. Apparently her name is Hello Kitty, and her twin sister is Mimmy, which I was pronouncing Mim-ee... just before I read this thread during naptime. Hello Kitty and Mimmy is quite a sibling set, but I'm pleased that it altogether avoids the usual twin matchiness.

November 29, 2017 11:01 PM

I think you were saying Mimmy correctly: that's precisely what the spelling difference between Mimi and Mimmy is supposed to convey.

November 29, 2017 11:44 PM

No, I was just pointing out the weirdness of reading a story about a Mimmy, my first encounter with the name, stumbling over it, and then hearing that Mimi gets mispronounced that way by some people half an hour later. 

November 30, 2017 9:32 PM

Miriam, my maternal grandmother was called Mimi by her grandchildren and everyone else who didn't call her Mrs.____.

I've never thought that name could be mispronounced! 

Also, she didn't have any of the Mary given names and I think the nn came before grandchildren, so I have no idea where the origin came from.

Personally, I never would have confused Mamie with Mammy. To me, Mamie is a name or nn while Mammy is derogatory for black slave - kitchen, house, nanny (notice the closeness of those two).

It is always interesting on this site to talk about how words sound and are spoken.

Intellectually, I get Mary Christmas v Merry Christmas - but I still say Mary.  I'm still waiting to understand the difference between Mary and marry. Also Jul ee ah and Jul ya are very different, as is Mommy and Mummy someone brought up.

I will never have kids and probably would never had called one Mamie; but if I had, I'd be horrified to learn someone thought her name was Mammy. 


November 30, 2017 9:56 PM

In my experience there is no name so simple and straightforward that someone can't screw it up.

Mary has the vowel of air. Marry has the vowel in at. But that probably doesn't help. Further confusion, in Philadelphia it is Murray Christmas and Amurica.

November 29, 2017 4:33 PM

I understand how you feel that it's unusable for you. But you don't have any sentimental attachment to the name and would be just as happy (likely happier, since it isn't your style) to use something else. But would you consider someone who wanted to honour a beloved ancestor by using her name a racist?

November 29, 2017 4:58 PM

I think I would consider whether grandma Mamie had a middle name, or whether she was a birth certificate Mary, or whether there's another way to honor her (May Miriam? her favorite flower? whatever else)... and if that is the case, then I'd take it. If not, I think Mamie in the middle name slot is unlikely to be offensive to many people, since middle names are pretty covert, and the only people who will hear it are likely people who know about grandma Mamie and will feel positively about the honoring. I think it becomes more problematic as a call name which represents someone out in the world, and there, I think it's not a great choice, because the call name will be asked to represent the bearer including in conversations with people who find the name uncomfortable. 

By EVie
November 29, 2017 5:53 PM

I think that's answering a different question, though: Would you use the name Mamie to honor a beloved relative? (Answer: No) vs. Would you judge someone as racist who answered that question with yes?

The thing that I keep coming back to is, how does the existence of (for example) a white woman named Mamie reinforce the harmful Mammy stereotype? I TOTALLY understand why someone wouldn't want to give a black child the name Mamie, because that black child will someday be a black woman, and there's a non-zero chance that a black woman named Mamie would call to mind that stereotype. But doesn't the existence of white or other-ethnicity Mamies *dilute* the stereotype, rather than reinforce it? Is it just that being forced to hear the sound of a name that is similar to Mammy is hurtful? But then why isn't that true of words like Mommy and Mummy, which are phonetically just as similar?

If someone can explain to me how Mamie is reinforcing the stereotype, I am totally open to being convinced that the name shouldn't be used, but I feel the connection is open enough to interpretation that accusing someone who chooses to use it of racism is extreme.

November 29, 2017 6:49 PM

I wouldn't judge the parents as racist because I would think that they must have just not known about the issue at all -- and in this case, it's not unreasonably terrible a judgement because when you google Mamie you get Eisenhower and not Mammy. But I would think it was unfortunate and I would wish that someone had informed them first before they had given the name. 

I am still very unconvinced that white Mamies running around dilutes the stereotype -- I think hearing a name spoken gives the stereotype power and reinforces it, in addition to traumatizing all the nonwhite people who have to hear the name called on the playground. For example, I think non-Romani girls named Gypsy running around are a TERIRBLE idea even though it's a racial slur against the Romani. Hearing the name Gypsy doesn't make me think, "oh, lovely, this racial slur now gets a new fresh association of a kid!" it makes me think of the racial slur and the subjugation of the Romani and how pitsode of Europe people are so clueless as to romanticize it. Keeping a romanticized view of a racial slur in circulation by using it as a name seems like the worst thing for white namers to be doing. Racial slurs or things that are perceived as racial slurs (making them...racial slurs too, from where I stand) just make terrible names. I judge the parents there as really ignorant.

I know I'm hedging your question, but I think judging people as racist isn't necessarily that useful, because I think so much of racism is systematic and also unintentional. So, *I'm* racist. We're *all* racist. Including little Mamie and Gypsy's parents, who I admit are probably much better intended and not white supremacists (unlike the parents of little Adolf). But caling people racist doesn't seem very useful, given that there is so much racism in our culture where 99.99% of people say they reject racism and that it's bad.

By EVie
November 30, 2017 4:00 PM

You mean Everyone's a Little Bit Racist? ;)

(That's satire but may be offensive to some, just in case anyone needs a trigger warning).

In all seriousness, I completely agree with you about Gypsy (and about institutional racism), but I'm still not getting from there to Mamie. Gypsy is 1) an actual racial slur that 2) is being used in a way that romanticizes and erases all the ways that the Romani have been marginalized. A good analogue to that would be the use of names like the Redskins for sports teams -- 1) Redskins is offensive in of itself, and 2) its use is making a marginalized population into a caricature.

I'm also on board with rejecting names that are not racial slurs, but still appropriate or exoticize marginalized or colonized people like India, China, Dakota, Cohen, etc.

If the Mammy stereotype were being romanticized and white people were running around naming their daughters Mammy to intentionally invoke it, then yes, I would consider that insensitive and inappropriate. But that's not what's happening here -- they're using Mamie *despite* the (unflattering) Mammy stereotype, in most cases not even recognizing the connection, because the connection is super tenuous to begin with. Like I said before, I totally understand why some people feel it's too close for comfort, and it's their prerogative to reject it (or any name) for that reason, but that degree of closeness is very much a matter of individual perception. Some people think Erin and Aaron sound the same, but to me they are totally different. I think we get onto very shaky ground when we start reading racial meaning into other people's vowels. 

Again, why does Mamie recall Mammy, but not Mommy or Mummy? And if an individual were triggered by the word Mommy, would she be justified in asking everyone around her to stop using the word? Is something a racial slur because one person perceives it to be, or do we need a critical mass of people to agree that the word is offensive?

I guess what I'm looking for is evidence that Mamie is broadly perceived as equivalent to Mammy, beyond just the one poster here who thought it was, and I'm not finding it. Even Googling "Mamie Mammy" doesn't come up with anything that connects Mamie to the stereotype, beyond Namipedia on this site.

November 30, 2017 8:34 PM

This is 100% the response that I wanted to write, down to the Avenue Q reference!!! 

I have also been wondering whether my Canadian identity and upbringing influence my perspective on this issue, but seeing that you and I seem to view the issue in exactly the same way, perhaps it has less impact that I thought.

By eroy
November 30, 2017 9:53 PM

I don't think you will find evidence that Mamie is equated with Mammy, because it doesn't exist. We have to conclude then that this whole discussion was a red herring set off by an overly sensitive individual, and represents a viewpoint that roughly 0.000001% of people would hold.


November 30, 2017 11:18 PM

That might be the case, but I think it's a discussion worth having. The fact is that names are powerful signals and it pays to think about what those signals might be when naming a child. I appreciate the fact that this conversation arose because it's caused me to think deeply about the issues of race and racism and how they intersect with names.

By EVie
December 1, 2017 12:37 PM

Karyn, I think we're on the same page, and I don't think it's just your Canadian perspective (although I've wondered whether all the social justice drama is playing out differently in a Canadian context).

I do think the discussion is worth having, and I think it's worth listening to other people's perspectives even if I don't ultimately change my mind. Social norms are in a state of flux right now (and probably always are, but I think that the ebbs and flows are bigger, faster and broader now due to the information sharing on the internet and social medial in particular), and that means we all need to take a step back, re-evaluate our boundaries and make sure we're clear on where everybody else's boundaries lie. That includes the use of names and language as well as more obvious domains like professional behavior. Having a frank but calm and respectful discussion of it is the only way to do it -- which is why, while I sympathize with the social justice movement in general and find its goals worthwhile, I sometimes object to its rhetoric and tactics which only serve to shut down discussion. 

November 30, 2017 11:47 PM

Note that I just cleaned up the Mamie entry in Namipedia. In addition to removing a long and irrelevant dissertation about the role of Mammy in Gone with the Wind, I removed the tidbits that confused Mamie with Mame.

December 1, 2017 10:39 PM

I think that a is just a very squishy vowel -- people here misheard songs about Mammy as being about Mamie, so it's quite reasonable to expect the opposite. Mimi, Mommy and Mummy are just things that my mouth makes very different shapes for, and they sound more different. I know to the unmerged, all of the nuances of a sound are very different, but to me they're all very similar. 

I think this is an auditory phenomenon and not a visual one, which is why it's somewhat google resistant... but also you have mod admission that the Mamie namipedia thread has just been cleared of Mammy discussions because those are "off-topic".

I do think that Mamie is a name that doesn't have anything to do with Mammy, and it's not quite like using Gypsy as a name. I think a better analogy may be the practice of spelling Aria and Ariana names with a y, so that they make sensitive readers uncomfortably reminded of Aryan. Aryana is NOT a reference to Aryan Nation ideology, it's a NAME, and many people will (totally justifiably) see it without being reminded of Aryans at all. But me, as a German, the Aryan part kind of jumps out at me and I can't unsee it... and it makes me kind of squirmy and uncomfortable. I don't think it makes EVERYONE uncomfortable, but it makes those with cultural backgrounds where the issue is a delicate one (e.g. German people, Jewish people) tend to associate the name with the concept to which it is similar. 

Do I think it's a good idea to bestow upon a person who has to go out into the world and interact with diverse people, a name that makes some subset of the population uncomfortable to read or say or hear? No. Even if it's only a small subset, even if you think they're overreacting, names are our universal calling cards and I think they should be relatively unoffensive to as many people as possible. 

I also think that African American perspectives are way underrepresented on naming sites, and Mamie is a name that is currently at is nadir of popularity, so I'm not surprised that we don't have more perspectives beyond the namipedia on this site. If I were still living in a majority black neighborhood, I would love to take a survey in a coffeeshop setting.