Friday, May 26, 2023

No More Funny Names


Let’s say your child is in their early elementary school years. They come home from school and say, “There’s a girl in my class with a funny name!” 

What do you do?

Do you ignore it? Do you laugh along at the sound of the funny name? Do you go the educational route and research together where that funny name comes from, how it evolved? 

Do you try to explain to your young child that saying someone has a funny name is singling them out in a mocking way? That nobody feels good about being told they have a funny name? 

  • Or clothes
  • Or lunch
  • Or accent

It starts early. Young children notice differences, and that is completely natural. But there is a distinction between thinking “that name sounds different from my name” and “that’s a funny name!” One is an observation, the other is a value judgement. And, as innocent as it may seem, it can grow over time into a way to “other” people who are different and reinforce a mindset that some people are “normal” while others are not.

This can be hurtful and exclusionary whether it’s in a school lunch room or in a business board room. In the US it continually underscores the belief that white people are the norm, so much so that it feels perfectly acceptable to single out those who are different in jokes, unwelcome questioning, and narrow value judgments. 

How easy this is to do in majority white environments. How easy it is to want to maintain majority white environments that feel “normal” to you so you are comfortable.

Yesterday my family attended the graduation ceremony at UMBC. We’ve known all along how committed the school is to diversity, equity, and inclusion and that means a lot to us. President Emeritus Freeman Hrabowski’s commitment to recruiting and supporting first-generation students and those who have traditionally been underserved by higher education has always been a huge plus to us. That is the future we want for our kids:

Education should be for everyone. Narrowing the gates creates losers all around. Having a chosen few sacrifices the talents and potential of those who are excluded.

The success of UMBC’s commitment to these goals was apparent at graduation. I could give you a list of ways I observed this, but I’m going to focus on just one.

There were no funny names. 

I believe there were over six hundred graduates in this particular ceremony and the names and nationalities and ethnic origin and skin color  hair styles and body type and gender expression were so varied and diverse that what was “normal” was, essentially, the overwhelming diversity of the whole. 

It was powerful. 

No one stood out. No one was “different” in that “ha-ha, funny” kind of way. 

I am not saying, “I don’t see differences” in a way that erases. I am saying that all of the differences are so fully encouraged, accepted, and celebrated that there’s just no traction for the notion that there are the “normal” students and the “other” ones.

That’s what I saw, anyway. And I know that the presence of all the graduates in that room is a testament not only to their hard work and their family’s support but also to UMBC’s continuing mission to make higher education accessible and inclusive. That environment elevates the educational experience for all students. It’s an investment in a better future for all of us.


This post is dedicated, in gratitude, to Candace Dodson Reed. While our recent graduate was matriculating, she was serving as as the Chief of Staff to Freeman Hrabowski and Executive Director of the Office of Equity and Inclusion. Her work, along with that of many others at UMBC, has made the future a more inclusive place.

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