We’re not all Jims and Janes
and that’s just fine
By Ishita Verma
IN SEPTEMBER, a famous advice columnist gave her opinion to a father about giving his unborn child an Indian name. The column is “Dear Abby,” run by 76-year-old Jeanne Phillips.
“Why saddle a kid with a name he or she will have to explain or correct with friends, teachers and fellow employees from childhood into adulthood?” Phillips wrote.
Since publication, the article has received divided responses. Some people believe an anglo name is better suited for anyone living in the West, whereas others say an anglo name strips away a person’s ethnicity or culture.
First, I don’t believe any columnist has a right to advise parents on what they should name their children. Abby’s advice, in this case, is formed around an old-fashioned norm, where immigrants give their children English names so they can be assimilated into Western society. That is no longer the case; immigrants from places other than Europe are the majority in the West.
Naming your child is a personal decision and should not be based on societal expectations. Immigrants don’t need to name their children Jim and Jane.
And Westerners need to put more effort into properly pronouncing “foreign” names.
Second, how can one define whether a name is foreign. Isn’t an anglo name foreign in Japan?
Abby should have specified in her column that, when she says “foreign,” she means “not American.” Give your child an American name so American children will not make fun of them.
But children make fun of everything and everyone. Most of the time, they abbreviate their names, carrying over the nickname into adulthood; this makes an anglo name kind of useless. One Twitter user (@Sil_Lai) said “.@dearabby is right in that kids with different names are mercilessly teased, but the solution isn’t to give kids anglo names to appease white supremacy. Instead hold racist kids who bully those from different ethnicities accountable & not allow bullying to go unpunished.”
“Abby” replies: “Sometimes the name can be a problematic word in the English language. And one that sounds beautiful in a foreign language can be grating in English.”
Grating: “sounding harsh and unpleasant.”
Personally, I don’t think my three-synonym first name sounds harsh or unpleasant. It’s my name. Unlike some twitter users, I don’t relate it to my culture or heritage. My name is an extension of me as a person. The same way someone named Hannah doesn’t necessarily relate to England.
Regardless of whether they are derived from one’s faith, culture or language, names are an extension of a person.
If someone decides to change their name, they do so because it’s their choice, and not because of a (slightly) racist columnist.