My name is Jamahl Hogan. I was born in 2001 in Zeeland Community Hospital to Paul and Stephanie Hogan. I enjoy playing sports and watching the New England Patriots play football. If you’re picturing me right now and don’t know who I am, odds are you don’t think I’m white, but I promise you I am.
My mom named me Jamahl after watching Finding Forrester and Save the Last Dance. My dad didn’t object, so they decided that’s what they would call me. Unfortunately, my extended family weren’t always huge fans of my name. My mom recalls telling my grandma they were planning on naming me Jamahl, and she responded with “I’ll just have to call him ‘baby’.” Eventually, people got used to my name and those who know me don’t even bat an eye at the sound of it. However, I have had plenty of encounters where my nontraditional name has caused some confusion. This isn’t really that surprising considering If you google search Jamahl, there is one white man on the whole first page and his first name isn’t even Jamahl.
When I was in seventh grade, one of my African American friends named Ray Mackey was in my science class. As a way to entertain our classmates, we switched names for a day when we had a substitute teacher. For the whole hour, we went by each other’s name. The substitute teacher suspected nothing despite the giggles from other students whenever anyone used our name. Back then, I was just learning how unusual my name was. Instead of being defensive, I decided I would embrace my name and use it as a joke. I figured as long as people will notice how unique my name is, I would try to have fun with it.
A few times, my name has gotten me into serious predicaments, purely based on the prejudices of other people. When I was between the ages of three and five years old, I often traveled to Florida with my grandma. While going through airport security, TSA gave me a “random” search. I didn’t realize why I kept getting searched, but as I got older it became more obvious. A study conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union concluded that TSA implements techniques that racial profile. It’s obvious now that my name was what caused me to be searched.
Times like this make me realize how many people can judge you purely based on your name. The TSA workers made assumptions about my ethnicity and race based on my name. Even though a small kid could not pose a threat to security, because of my name, TSA thought it was necessary to search me.
There have also been times when my name has gotten me into awkward situations. Often people don’t assume I’m Jamahl when there are other people around and this has caused some confusion for me and my friends. One of my African-American friends I swim with, Sam Smith, has experienced this a few times.
Once, a few of my friends and I went out to lunch after a swim practice. At this restaurant they ask for the name of the person who ordered and then when they finish the order they call out the orderer’s name. By coincidence, me and Sam’s food came out at the same time. When we went up, the waitress handed me a bag and handed Sam one. When we reached our table, we realized we didn’t receive the right food; the worker had given Sam’s food to me and my food to him. After we understood what had happened, we laughed and then exchanged food.
Only a few weeks later a situation like this happened again. The swim team had gone to dinner at another restaurant. We all paid at once and me and Sam both paid with cards. When the waiter brought back the checks and distributed them, he read the names out loud and handed them back. After reading out my name, he handed my check to Sam until I corrected him. He looked at me a little funny and hesitantly handed it back. It was one of the most obvious times my name confused someone.
Despite how strange the judgment surrounding my name might be, through the years I’ve grown to really like my name. Even though it may be unusual and can sometimes get me in some precarious situations, it’s the only name I’ve ever known and I like it. Many people know me as “the white kid named Jamahl,” and honestly, I don’t mind that. For me, my name makes me unique. Almost daily, someone makes a joke or asks me about my name. While some may think that’s annoying, I enjoy it. You would be surprised by how many people I meet just by having the name I do. So despite all the ways my name can out me in humorous situations., I wouldn’t have it any other way.