In September 2018, 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 continued to receive divided responses. On one hand, there are some who agree with Phillips and believe an Anglo name is better suited for anyone living in the West. On the other, some believe that an Anglo name can strip away a person’s link to their ethnicity or culture.
Firstly, I don’t believe any columnist has a right to advise parents on what they should name their children. In this case, Phillips’ 76-year-old advice is formed around an old-fashioned norm, where immigrants would give their children either an English name or refer to them by one. This was done to assimilate the children into western society. But, let’s be honest, that’s no longer the case; everything is global now. Immigrants don’t need to name their children Jack and Jill.
Naming your child is a personal decision and should not be based on societal expectations that quite frankly don’t exist anymore.
And westerners need to put more effort into properly pronouncing “foreign” names. You’re telling me the world can learn to pronounce Ansel but not Eoin (Owen), Massachusetts but not Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (Llan- Fair- Pwll- Gwyn – Gyll- Go- Ger- Ych- Wyrn- Drob- Wll- Llan- Ty- Silio- Go- Go- Goch).
Secondly, how can one define whether a name is foreign? Isn’t an Anglo name foreign in Japan? In fact, the only reason Anglo names are known around the world is because of globalization. In her column, Phillips 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 nicknames 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, as defined by the Oxford English dictionary: “sounding harsh and unpleasant.”
Personally, I don’t think my three-synonym first name sounds harsh or unpleasant. It’s my name, an extension of me as a person. Regardless of whether they are derived from one’s faith, culture or language, I strongly believe that names make a person.
If someone decides to change their name, they should do so by choice.
Lastly, an advice columnist should consider the impact they may have on diverse audiences; otherwise, they should expect the blowback they may receive from giving insensitive advice.