Rachel Dolezal, the former NAACP chapter president for Spokane, Washington, gave birth to a baby boy earlier this week and named the little guy Langston Attickus, taking her inspiration from two — or perhaps even three — historical and literary figures from important chapters in black history.
Dolezal is, of course, the woman whose decision to "identify" as black despite being born white and enjoying the privileges of such sparked a massive controversy about racial identity and made her the focus of very sharp criticism.
In the midst of that chaos, she announced she was pregnant and would be giving birth to a third son and naming him Langston. Dolezal said she drew her inspiration from the poem "Mother to Son" by Langston Hughes, a black poet who is sometimes regarded as a leader in the Harlem Renaissance cultural movement of the 1920s.
The baby's middle name, though, is a revelation. Literary nerds will recognize it immediately as a character from the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch was the man who defended a wrongly accused black man in a rape trial central to the novel's plot.
The unique spelling of the name, however, could be a nod to Crispus Attucks, another important black historical figure in American history as the first casualty of the Boston Massacre in 1770. Sometimes he is considered the first casualty of the American Revolution.
It's not unusual for parents to choose names for their children that are loaded with meaning, and choosing historical or literary figures that one admires is a common way to do that. By naming your child after someone who is widely accepted as having been gifted and intelligent (Langston Hughes), morally principled (Atticus Finch) or defiant in the face of oppression (Crispus Attucks), you hope in some small way to impart those characteristics onto your own child.
Historical and literary names also bring a sort of weighty dignity. Names taken from books that speak to us are on the rise, with boy's names like Atticus, Holden and Sawyer steadily maintaining popularity and girl's names like Scarlett, Phoebe and Scout following suit. Add that to new bookworm favorites like Arya and Gale, and it's clear the practice of naming children after characters with traits we admire isn't going anywhere.
Similarly, naming children after culturally significant artists and historical figures yield monikers like Zora, Amelia and Jane for girls and Augustus or Darwin for boys. Names pulled from the pages of our favorite novels or history books have the benefit of being both meaningful and well-established. They lend an air of intelligence to children but also give them some mighty big shoes to fill.
As for little Langston Attickus, he's got quite the experience ahead of him, given the scrutiny and animosity that still surrounds his mother. We hope that won't be transferred onto him as he grows up in her care. Dolezal has already raised two boys and is by all accounts a capable and loving mother, no matter how we feel about her otherwise.
Still, it would seem the poem from which Dolezal drew her initial inspiration is fitting. In it, a mother warns her son that life is full of obstacles and adversarial forces but encourages him to persevere anyway.
It's a good lesson for any kid, but it might hold a little extra significance for Langston Attickus Dolezal in particular.
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