Are names important? Is it ok not to refer to people by their given names? In my career, I have met many student who changed their given name once migrating to the US because there were some who could not pronounce or spell it. What? I admit I was challenged by some names, but rather that say, I’ll call you by ‘new” name, out of respect for the person (children or adults) I always promised to try hard to learn the pronunciation and spelling. I found the lack of respect for someone’s name quite disturbing and wondered why it wasn’t important for others to call people by their given name. It is for me extremely important.
A name is an identity marker! It is given to you by parents who had something special in mind when they chose the name. Some parents may have chosen a name because it honors someone, because it refers to something special, because it is unique, or because it carries some expectation.
Author Rachel Miller, suggests that “many parents believes that a name holds the power to shape a child's self-esteem and his identity—and influence how he's seen and treated by others.” It is a permanent decision that most parents take seriously.
Most of the children I met, and whose names had been changed disliked it. The older ones especially, thought they had lost apart of themselves. So what can we do? First, we might need to think about the implications of not using/calling people by their given names. Take a look at what is suggested by Mike Garry (2015)… “The Importance of Names and Calling People by Names.” CYS. Source…http://cultureandyouth.org/identity/articles-identity/the-importance-of-names/. Secondly, look at the questions for reflection and discussion below to help guide your thinking.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- To what extent, do you think, a person’s name is an essential aspect in their sense of individual identity?
- What does your birth name mean to you? Why? What other names do you carry around? If they are freeing, how can you use them to encourage others? If they are heavy, what will it look like to crawl out from beneath that/those weight(s)?
- Is it appropriate to change our names? In what ways? For what reasons
- How do we go about naming others? Do these names bring healing or harm? What does this reveal about who we are?
- It is beneficial to study the naming of children across cultures perhaps starting with a Wikipedia article: “Naming Ceremony”.
- It might be important to study or consider the most negative and vulgar names we can throw at a person, which undermine his/her dignity and personhood.
- Like many important human traditions, naming of children can become trivialized—a matter of checking out the most popular boy and girl names on the Internet.
Think about whether or not you are willingly to undermine a person’s dignity when we refuse to make an effort to refer to them by their given name. Which path will you choose?