New Delhi (CNN)I absolutely understand why you’d think choosing a “foreign” name for a child could make pronunciation difficult. I get it, I do, but I’m going to be straight up with you, Abby — it’s because those “foreign” names aren’t made for you. You need to be OK with this.
Thanks to Dr. Simran Jeet Singh’s viral tweet and the resurfacing of your September advice column, “Couple Must Choose Between Practical and Unusual Names for Children,” I was able to read it and found most of your comments to be, to borrow your word, extremely “grating” — both in English and the two other languages I’m moderately proficient in.
As a multiethnic woman who married a multiethnic man and then had multiethnic children, I’m deeply wounded by your lack of compassion and myopic views. Instead of returning the offense, I’d like to take this opportunity to educate you. I want to help you understand the importance of choosing names which reflect heritage and culture.
Because as Dr. Singh so brilliantly pointed out, your insistence on normalizing a name for white Americans is actually the very definition of cultural imperialism, which is awful and oppressive. It’s also very dangerous.
Just so we’re clear, the Indian wife who wants to give her future children Indian names isn’t doing so to purposely make their lives harder. She is not a mean woman. Nor is she going to be an evil mom if she chooses Indian names. She is someone who desires to celebrate and pay homage to her heritage. She wishes to provide and preserve a narrative of her family history. And one that can’t be whitewashed away. By naming her future children Indian names, she would be giving them an invaluable and worthy treasure that would reverberate for generations. She should be encouraged to do so unapologetically.
She doesn’t need to make it easier for anyone to pronounce her unborn children’s names by choosing “practical” (READ: whiter-sounding) names. She doesn’t need to uphold Western or white norms for her children to be accepted. Suggesting that she not “saddle a kid with a name he or she will have to correct” is blaming her for preserving tradition and culture.
Multiethnic families are not here to make your life, or anyone else’s, easier when it comes to diversity. We don’t need to choose names based on whether you or a preschool teacher or a Sea World announcer or a future employer can pronounce them. Let’s be real: How hard is it to pronounce Meenakshi versus Michelle? Or Shabnam versus Sarah? Do the work. Use your whole mouth and tongue. It’s not that difficult.
The Indian wife doesn’t need to reject her traditions or “rethink this,” you do.
To your point about unborn children with ethnic names having higher chances of being “teased unmercifully” for their “unusual names,” I have to ask: Why aren’t you suggesting that instead parents should raise children who don’t bully and tease children because of their names? You neglectfully missed an opportunity to school parents and their children on the importance of respecting others and celebrating diversity.
Additionally, I’m not sure if you get on social media much or travel (#SeeSomeWorld), but there are millions of American citizens visiting non-English speaking countries every year. Some of us are even living as expats all around the world. What makes you assume this family who wrote you seeking advice will always live in the US? My children have Italian and Iranian names. Our nationality is American. We unexpectedly moved to New Delhi, India, one year ago. No one here has a problem pronouncing my children’s names. If you are using “difficult to pronounce” as an excuse, it means you’re lazy or unwilling.
Furthermore, names can’t be inherently “problematic,” “grating,” or bad in any language, including English, unless your child’s name is an expletive.
Most worrisome of all, is the clear lack of sensitivity from the husband who wrote the letter in the first place. You neglected to call him out for his bigoted views of non-Western names or for his patronizing condescension toward his wife embedded in the question: “How can I make my wife understand that having ‘unusual’ names makes certain aspects of kids’ lives more difficult?” I assume you overlooked the racism against his wife because you’re blind to it. It’s not his wife’s insistence on Indian names that is the problem here, it’s this husband’s attitude toward them.
Being Indian, having an Indian name, or having any non-Western-sounding name is not something that has to be a hardship. It should not be stigmatized. But in many places, it still is because people like you, in positions like yours, perpetuate this kind of thinking. In this column, you reinforced the worst fears for multiethnic families: that the world is not as open-minded as we thought; that we are naïve in thinking our children, with their ethnic names, should be accepted just the same as little John or Susie.
No parent or future parent should feel like they have to name their child according to what is palatable to white people or to people who only speak English. We just want to name our children as freely and equally as you would be afforded. Our children did not ask to be born into the families and cultures they were, but we’ll be sure to teach them to celebrate their names, their traditions and their histories as proudly and loudly as possible so no one will have to ask again if an ethnic name is good or bad ever again.
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