Jemal David, an African-American character played by actor Otis Young on the single-season TV western The Outcasts (1968-1969).
The series was set in the decade following the Civil War, when “people of all creeds and colors were part of the West” (according to the narrated introduction). The two protagonists, both bounty hunters, were an unlikely pair: Jemal, an ex-slave freed by the Proclamation, and Earl Corey, a former slave owner from Virginia.
Young’s Jemal David was possibly television’s angriest African American protagonist; a defiant man who refused to forget the indignities and humiliations of slavery. He also never let his partner’s racism go unchallenged.
There was even an episode called “My name is Jemal” that drew extra attention to the name:
The similar name Jamal also saw a big boost in usage thanks to the character. But, unlike Jemal, which quickly petered out, Jamal’s usage continued to increase for several decades.
What are your thoughts on the name Jemal? Which spelling do you prefer?
Bogle, Donald. Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001.
According to a study published recently in Evolution and Human Behavior, men with black-sounding names “are thought to be larger and more dangerous” than men with white-sounding names.
The study involved more than 1,500 participants, most of whom were white. After reading three different vignettes (“neutral,” “successful,” “threatening”) that featured characters with either stereotypically white-sounding or stereotypically black-sounding names, the participants were asked to describe the characters.
The study…found that men with black-sounding names, such as Jamal, DeShawn, or Darnell, were assumed to be physically larger, more aggressive, and lower in status, compared to men with white-sounding names such as Connor, Wyatt, or Garnett.
The lead author of the study, Colin Holbrook, said via press release: “I’ve never been so disgusted by my own data.” He also called the results disturbing. I agree…though I don’t find them particularly surprising.
The first season of hit drama Empire aired from January through March of this year.
The show’s audience grew bigger and bigger with each successive episode (no small feat!) and the first-season finale was the most successful of “any new series on any broadcast network” since the first-season finale of Grey’s Anatomy back in 2005.
I think the show — which will be back on the air with new episodes in September — could have a big impact on baby names in 2015. Some Empire names to keep an eye on:
And three names that might debut on the SSA’a list in 2015…
Bryshere, for actor Bryshere Y. Gray.
Jussie, for actor Jussie Smollett. Smollett has been in and out the spotlight for a long time now, and his name has never made the list, but maybe this will change in 2015. (His character, Jamal, is probably the most likable person on the show.)
Empire, for the show itself. This one might seem improbable, but I wouldn’t count it out as similar names (e.g., King, Kingdom, Emperor, Sire, Sovereign) do exist.
What are your thoughts on the names in Empire? Did I miss any good ones?
The ground-breaking ’80s sitcom focused on the Huxtables, a well-off African-American family living in New York City. It starred Bill Cosby as Heathcliff “Cliff” Huxtable.
The show ran from mid-1984 to mid-1992 and was the top-rated program in the nation for 5 consecutive seasons.
And it influenced a whole bunch of baby names, such as…
Vanessa & Tempestt
Vanessa, the second-youngest Huxtable child, was played by Tempestt Bledsoe. The baby name Vanessa saw its highest-ever levels of usage during the years the show was on:
1989: 6,955 baby girls named Vanessa (ranked 50th)
1988: 7,515 baby girls named Vanessa (ranked 41st)
1987: 7,345 baby girls named Vanessa (ranked 43rd)
1986: 7,367 baby girls named Vanessa (ranked 43rd)
1985: 7,562 baby girls named Vanessa (ranked 42nd)
1984: 7,153 baby girls named Vanessa (ranked 45th)
1983: 6,383 baby girls named Vanessa (ranked 49th)
And the baby name Tempestt debuted on the charts the year after the show premiered:
1990: 70 baby girls named Tempestt
1989: 98 baby girls named Tempestt
1988: 72 baby girls named Tempestt
1987: 87 baby girls named Tempestt
1986: 78 baby girls named Tempestt
1985: 36 baby girls named Tempestt [debut]
The name Tempest also got a boost during the last half of the ’80s.
Rudy & Keshia
Rudith “Rudy” Huxtable, the baby of the family, was played by Keshia Knight Pulliam. The baby name Keshia entered the top 1,000 for the very first time the year after the show premiered:
1990: 385 baby girls named Keshia (ranked 594th)
1989: 496 baby girls named Keshia (ranked 479th)
1988: 398 baby girls named Keshia (ranked 547th)
1987: 483 baby girls named Keshia (ranked 457th)
1986: 511 baby girls named Keshia (ranked 426th)
1985: 321 baby girls named Keshia (ranked 596th)
1984: 96 baby girls named Keshia
1983: 64 baby girls named Keshia
The name Rudy also rose in usage, and the variant spelling Rudi debuted on the charts in 1985.
Huxtable mother Clair was played by actress Phylicia Rashād. The baby name Phylicia entered the top 1,000 for the first time two years after the show premiered:
1990: 257 baby girls named Phylicia (ranked 787th)
1989: 265 baby girls named Phylicia (ranked 744th)
1988: 286 baby girls named Phylicia (ranked 679th)
1987: 290 baby girls named Phylicia (ranked 649th)
1986: 213 baby girls named Phylicia (ranked 789th)
1985: 122 baby girls named Phylicia
1984: 13 baby girls named Phylicia
1983: 7 baby girls named Phylicia
Theo & Malcolm-Jamal
Theo, the middle Huxtable child (and the only male in the family besides Cliff) was played by Malcolm-Jamal Warner. The baby name Theo almost tripled in usage the year after the show premiered:
1990: 66 baby boys named Theo
1989: 75 baby boys named Theo
1988: 77 baby boys named Theo
1987: 75 baby boys named Theo
1986: 85 baby boys named Theo
1985: 76 baby boys named Theo
1984: 23 baby boys named Theo
1983: 26 baby boys named Theo
Usage of the baby name Malcolm also began to rise in the mid-’80s, and the baby name Malcolm-Jamal (rendered Malcolmjamal by the SSA, which leaves off hyphens) debuted on the baby name charts two years after the show premiered:
1988: 5 baby boys named Malcolm-Jamal
1986: 5 baby boys named Malcolm-Jamal [debut]
(Where did actor Malcolm-Jamal Warner get his name, btw? He was named after civil rights activist Malcolm X and jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal.)
So now here’s the question: Does The Cosby Show beat Family Ties in terms of impact on the baby name charts? Cosby clearly affected a greater number of names, but is that enough to offset the massive rises of both Mallory and Alex?