Politica – Does our lame name game aim to tame, blame or maim?


 

One of the fascinating things I have been involved in is helping people look at cultural identity through names, given names, family names, nicknames, etc., because these often represent attempts to create identity, solidify it, or on the other hand attack it and diminish it. A workshop I have created and have delivered now a number of times focuses on "What's in a Name". As has been very well received, I believe that there is an ongoing need for "name work" as well as "face work" in our intercultural interventions.

Here’s an interesting article about Italians and Irish as immigrants to the USA many years ago. I think you’ve probably seen me say that our family name was Simonovič, but my parents’ generation changed it to Simons because they were tired of hearing the locals make fun of it with “Simonovich the son of a bitch”!

Certainly, names that come from another linguistic framework can have us stumbling over them. My Chinese intern Luyu assumed the Western name Neville. Though his is a very simple name, without any strange sounds for us, all too often we kept inverting the syllables and making him "Yulu". So, one of the questions is whether one assumes a new name with a sense of enthusiasm for possibilities in a new place, for convenience, or out of a sense of persecution and non-acceptance for being who we are. I have heard stories telling how immigration officers who couldn't pronounce, for example, Walentinowicz on an immigrant's papers would strike out the family name and write "Walters." Here is a comic advertisement for a power company in Helsinki that mocks this incapacity for learning and respecting names and the temptation to sidestep the issue with not-so-nice consequences.

How do we best raise the issue of using names and teaching others to use them as part of our intercultural work?

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