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Essay: Win or lose, let's discuss the name of the game, LaceDarius Dunn

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Urban legend has it that, somewhere, there's a set of twins named Lemongelo and Lorangelo, maybe named for the vitamin C in their mama's diet. But that seems in perfect keeping with the impish sophisticate who gives in to her whimsy. After all, think of Gwyneth Paltrow in a London hospital, reaching for her newborn daughter, Apple.

Mark Gray is a host for "The Sports Groove" on WOL-AM and the Heritage Sports Radio Network. In following the NCAA tournament, he says, "I just trip off the whole collection of Michigan State names." That would be Raymar Morgan, Draymond Green, Kalin Lucas and Delvon Roe. "I was like, damn, coach went out and got himself some 'round-the-way dudes in the 'hood to go after another championship!"

When Gray heard the name LaceDarius, he instantly thought of "a villain in 'Matrix' II. . . . He sounds like the dude who may take Morpheus out, then you'd have LaceDarius fighting Neo. I got it all plotted."

Gray says he has seen an explosion of created names. "For years, when I was doing games in the South, it was almost like doing an international broadcast where you've got to have phonetic pronunciations," Gray says. He has even seen conventional words and titles repurposed as names. "I was doing a football game at Alabama A&M and one of the players was named Lieutenant Dukes. I don't know, maybe his mom was seeing a guy in the service."

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If the person is a standout, an unconventional name can become synonymous with his or her cool: LeBron James. Thelonious Monk. Beyoncé. But it's not so cool when a Trayvondez (I made that one up!) doesn't graduate high school or Lonnae-nae (made that one up, too!!) winds up waaay off Broadway. When a person is losing at life, the unusual name can feel like a different kind of cultural shorthand.

Elza Dinwiddie-Boyd, author of 1994's "Proud Heritage: 11,001 Names for your African-American Baby," found many of the names in the pages of sports magazines. She applauds the creativity but worries that what started in the wake of the black power movement as statements of cultural assertion, of "I am somebody," is at risk of stigmatizing.

In an interview this week, she cites a recent MIT-University of Chicago study that indicated that job applicants with "black-sounding" names were 50 percent less likely to get a response to their résumés than similarly qualified applicants with "white-sounding" names.

In 2005, David N. Figlio, a professor of social policy at Northwestern University, used a computer algorithm to correlate the sounds and spellings in children's names with the mother's level of education. He found patterns among white, black and Latino parents that allowed him to predict whether or not the mother had graduated high school.

"LaQuisha was considerably less like to have a high-school-graduate mom than Lakisha, and if you put in an apostrophe, La'Quisha, it was less likely still," he says.

White parents tend to jazz up their spelling rather than invent names, Figlio found. You'll see the name Alexander but spelled Alexzander. "That's almost exclusively white," he says. And if it's spelled Alixander, "that name comes with a likelihood that the mom was a high school dropout."

A number of ethnically identifiable names are associated with success, says Figlio. "One of my first girlfriends was Ebony, and she's a neurologist."


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