Monday, December 08, 2008

Proper Nouns

The other day our wife was showing us a list of kids from her school who'd received scholarships, or grants---some kind of monetary reward---from the Dell Foundation, or maybe the Gates Foundation (we were not fully present in the conversational moment, alas). She proudly singled out one recipient, a Hispanic lad whose Christian name---'scuse us, his given name---was the stoutly Germanic Gessner (the 13,286th most popular first name in the U.S., just ahead of Chikezie, according to this authoritative Web site). Gessner was headed to or already up at A&M and would be using his windfall to buy an Apple laptop.

That was all well and good but we're the scholarly type and had pressing questions: "So was he named after the street?* Does he have siblings named 'Fondren' and 'Wilcrest' and so forth?"

"I dunno," said she, "I never asked him."

Just a few days earlier, however, she had voluntarily related her ferreting out of the story behind the handle of another unusually named student. This one was christened DeNiro and upon inquiry it turned out that his mother or grandmother or aunt or whoever was in charge of naming him was from Brooklyn or the Bronx and wanted the boy to walk the semi-mean streets of Houston equipped with the name of the film actor most identified with New York City.

It probably goes without saying that this DeNiro is African American. Black folks are taking all the good names---regardless of race!

*To our readers in France: This is a long north-south thoroughfare in southwest Houston that is sort of like the Champs-Elysées, if the Champs-Elysées were lined with block after block of apartment complexes and dowdy commercial "strip" centers.

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