Sunday, June 9, 2024
Advertisements

It’s Official: The Nameplate Necklace Is Now a Cultural Artifact

A few years ago, Marcel Rosa-Salas, a cultural anthropologist, scholar and documentarian, and Isabel Attyah Flower, an editor and writer, embarked on a research and archival project focused on a category of jewellery that many of us hold dear. They called it Documenting the Nameplate. The pair spent years collecting photos and testimonials from nameplate wearers across the country and around the world at events, on a now-defunct podcast, and on a currently thriving Instagram page, @documentingthenameplate.

Advertisements
Advertisements

The fruits of this endeavour are presented in a new book, The Nameplate: Jewellery, Culture and Identity ($30; Clarkson Potter). And the Sex and the City “Carrie” necklace that caused a stir in the early 2000s? It only gets one passing mention, as if its rise to fame was just a fleeting moment in the tag’s long cultural history. Which, according to the authors, is exactly what it was.

Advertisements

“Of the hundreds of people we spoke to while researching the book, only a few mentioned Sex and the City as a reference for nameplates,” says Rosa-Salas. “Hip-hop music videos, album covers and magazine shoots from the 80s and 90s were much more commonly cited as pop culture references. It is not uncommon for mainstream media to be the vehicle through which an idea or aesthetic moves from regional or subcultural to global, and the styling on Sex and the City is certainly one way in which nameplates have been broadcast to a global audience, but nameplates were popular long before the show”.

Among the many examples that illustrate the authors’ point: a name bracelet – a cursive “Amy”, as it happens – in 15ct rose gold and diamonds from 1912, recovered from the wreck of the Titanic in 1987.

In addition to many photographs of name jewellery – so many ID bracelets, rings, medallions, hoop earrings, along with the classic curly script necklace – the pages feature nameless ‘street style stars’ from the early 1980s, captured to great effect by photographer Jamel Shabazz, mostly in Flatbush, Brooklyn.

There is also a 1988 photo of the rapper Big Daddy Kane. All of these archival images serve as a powerful reminder of where the popularity of nameplate jewellery originated (a topic further explored in this thoughtful essay from 2016).

Meanwhile, the book’s publication coincides with the 50th anniversary of the hip-hop genre (literally tied to a single party on 11 August 1973, according to this multi-episode NPR podcast). But instead of glorifying the boldface names that brought bling-bling to the forefront of mainstream culture, The Nameplate is able to tell a richer, more human story, incorporating essays and commentary written by scholars and cultural figures, or transcribed from interviews with everyday nameplate wearers. Childhood photographs, including yearbook portraits, make the enduring cultural significance of nameplates visually compelling in a way that feels intimate and relatable.

In other words, nameplate jewellery is like bling’s little sister – an unsung but significant contribution to the historical narrative of the hip-hop genre.

In the process of writing and producing the book, the authors were surprised to discover that “the tradition of wearing one’s name as jewellery is as old as the written language, and the nameplate has many overlapping histories and aesthetic traditions that go back millennia,” Rosa-Salas tells JCK. Flower adds: “We were amazed by the richness and complexity of this history, which continues to evolve as long as nameplates are worn and cherished.

My own delightful discoveries from reading the book include these tidbits: Dolly Parton’s Doralee Rhodes in 9 to 5 and Drea de Matteo’s Adriana La Cerva in The Sopranos both wore nameplates! I also loved Flower’s tip for “fellow journalists” like me – she writes:

“Begin your interviews by asking someone if they know how and why they got their name, and you’ll see all sorts of powerful insights into generational aspirations, family lore and sibling relationships. …. Even names as common as Michael or Mary can reveal fascinating details: a parent’s former radical politics, for example, or a secret love affair memorialised in the form of a middle initial. Even if the answers don’t make it into the story, the conversations tend to take on new dimensions in their wake”.

I’ll keep that in mind for the next time I interview a source. But in the meantime, I am going to hunt down an “Amy” necklace so that I can somehow be a part of this. Especially now that I have a greater appreciation of its origins and cultural significance beyond an early-aughts TV show.

Advertisements
Advertisements
Alice
Alice
Alice is a seasoned jewelry designer renowned for her exquisite creations that seamlessly blend artistry with elegance. With a passion for craftsmanship and an unwavering commitment to quality, Alice has established herself as a distinguished figure in the world of fine jewelry. Drawing inspiration from diverse cultures and artistic movements, Alice brings a unique perspective to her designs, creating pieces that transcend mere accessories to become timeless works of art. Her meticulous attention to detail and insistence on using only the finest materials ensure that each creation reflects not only her artistic vision but also a commitment to unparalleled craftsmanship. Having honed her skills through years of dedicated practice and a keen understanding of evolving trends, Alice is adept at translating her clients' desires into bespoke, one-of-a-kind pieces. Her portfolio encompasses a range of styles, from classic and timeless to avant-garde and contemporary, showcasing her versatility and ability to cater to a diverse clientele.

Related Articles

Latest Articles