Name-Checking: Mentioning someone less famous than oneself. The inverse of name-dropping ("mentioning someone more famous than oneself to enhance one's status"). Also spelled namechecking or name checking.
Kurt Anderson drops name-check into "Pop Culture in the Age of Obama," an essay in the New York Times Book Review, Aug. 9, 2009:
And then there’s Obama the tasteful pop-culture-consuming American, redefining presidential regular-guyness. On his iPod, Obama says, are “probably 30 Dylan songs,” “African dance music,” “Javanese flute music,” Yo-Yo Ma, Howlin’ Wolf, John Coltrane, Jay-Z, Frank Sinatra and Sheryl Crow. ... He doesn’t just name-check, but convincingly declaims — he prefers Spider-Man and Batman to Superman because “they have some inner turmoil.”
The Urban Dictionary entry for name-check ("Usually used to describe when some poser is listing bands to try to look cool or when some pretentious guy does the same to show how elite he is") was posted in March 2006. But the term's history is much older than that. Jan Freeman, who blogs at The Word, wrote in October 2006 that name-check originated in Cold War bureaucratese:
As The New York Times described it in 1953, an FBI ``name-check" involved looking for the names of federal job applicants and suspected traitors on lists the bureau compiled by reading ``every issue of The Daily Worker, and other publications regarded as being communistic," and adding the name of anyone mentioned as a speaker or supporter to the government files.
The verb to check is highly flexible; its more than 20 definitions include "to restrain," "to consign" (as in "to check one's bags"), and "to correspond." The check in the 1950s name-check meant "verify" or "investigate." But in the 1970s, the check in name-check mutated to mean something more like "put a check mark next to." The advertising world, Freeman writes, borrowed name-check "to mean an acknowledgment of support or sponsorship." (And not only in the United States: Freeman provides a 1985 citation from the BBC.) By 1987, it was common enough in the music world for the Los Angeles Times to use it without explanation in a review of a James Brown concert: the singer "only managed to name-check himself three times within a 90-minute set."
What niche is name-check filling? For one, it's a nicer sort of name-dropping; unlike the social climber, a name-checker is usually as famous as the checkee, if not more so. It's a muted version of the shout-out, born circa 1990; a passing mention, a tiny tribute, a pufflet. It's a tip of the hat for a generation that, if it weren't for Turner Classic Movies, might not know what a hat tip is.
(See also a recent blog post by linguist Arnold Zwicky,which includes a number of citations from sports and music.)
In my own line of work, name-checking means something else again: "checking a corporate or product name for domain or trademark availability." For the more familiar use of name-checking, see "Top Seven Songs Namechecking Jesus," in the Three Monkeys Online blog: "The devil may have the best tunes, but in at least several top-class songs Jesus gets a mention."