Intercultural Development Blog

What's in a name?

  • What's in a name?

The following blog post was written by Tahira Ebrahim, Centre Liaison Officer at the Centre for Excellence in Immigrant and Intercultural Advancement.  

This year, August 7 marked Heritage Day in Alberta. Heritage Day was first observed in 1974, “to recognize and celebrate the varied cultural heritage of Albertans” (Government of Alberta, 2016).

Ricardo Miranda, the Minister of Culture and Tourism put it best when he said, “Alberta’s heritage begins with its Indigenous peoples and spans generations to the many immigrants who have come to call this province home. We are fortunate to have such a rich cultural landscape.” (Government of Alberta, 2016).
 
One of the main identifiers of our heritage can come from our names. When we consider the history, culture, and language from which names are derived, we start to feel the significance of it. Our name can be a source of pride, but we may also feel it hinders us in our progress if people cannot pronounce our name. This may lead individuals to anglicize their name. More often than not, the decision to anglicize one’s name is often bred out of a desire to limit awkward conversations, improve opportunities for employment, and reduce chances of name mispronunciation.
 
And yet a new generation of individuals with non-English names are questioning this trend and reigniting a reversion back to their original names. Students at Columbia University came together to produce a video, Say My Name, reflecting on the meaning of their Chinese names and how their names shape how they understand themselves and instill pride in their identity.  
 
As part of the IC’s Do One Thing for Diversity and Inclusion event, participants were asked to share the meaning of their names. A great deal of cultural exchange occurred through this simple exercise. Learning about the meaning of another individual’s name created a sense of understanding between two people, regardless of which languages their names were derived from, as they shared more of their respective backgrounds and ancestry.
 
At times we may feel uncomfortable trying to pronounce another’s name, or we may ask if we can truncate it or adjust it to our comfort level. A name that feels foreign to you may feel like a barrier or obstacle to get to know someone. Consider the viewpoints of the individuals in this video clip on name pronunciation. What might you miss in avoiding pronouncing or engaging with someone with a different name? Reflect on the meaning of your own name or the story in how you were named. How does it represent who you are, what you’ve done, and how you want to be seen?
 
When you consider all the aspects of a person's name, try overcoming your initial discomfort to uncover insight into someone’s unique identity. Learn more about culture and language preservation with September’s Communal Table event, Language and Identity with blogger Tamania Jaffri.    
 
Source: Government of Alberta. (2016). Heritage Day: Celebrate culture and explore Alberta. Retrieved from https://www.alberta.ca/release.cfm?xID=4318934A31321-0EB8-B734-A3D367C7A00398F9

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