Monday, May 03, 2010

Names

I read A Bear Called Paddington to my son last week. I hadn't read it in years, and had forgotten many of the details. The Browns find a bear at Paddington Station, where they have gone to pick up their daughter Judy, who is coming home from school. Things happen quickly, and before long the Browns are taking their new bear (quickly part of the family) home in a taxi. Hilarity ensues.

The part that interests me most, though, is how Paddington gets his name. The Browns ask him his name, and he responds that he doesn't have one. Or, well, he amends, only a South American one that nobody would be able to pronounce. (Paddington, if you recall, is from "Darkest Peru.") The Browns (who, of course, have a very pronounceable and unobjectionable English name) decide to call him after the train station where they discovered him.

In April a Texas lawmaker, also named Brown, suggested that Asian immigrants might want to think about doing what Paddington did, since they, too, have names nobody can pronounce, or "deal with."

“Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese — I understand it’s a rather difficult language — do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?” Brown said.

Brown later told Ko: “Can’t you see that this is something that would make it a lot easier for you and the people who are poll workers if you could adopt a name just for identification purposes that’s easier for Americans to deal with?”


I grew up with my name being mispronounced (r and th both being difficult sounds for the people among whom I lived) and perhaps because of that, I am sensitive about getting people's names right. I may not always achieve it perfectly but I pride myself on making a good effort. I hate it when I slip and call one of my students the name of a sibling.

I thought as I read this article about those students of mine, now spread around the United States (and some in other parts of the world), going to schools where Haitian names may be considered "difficult." Many of the kids are already used to having their names anglicized at our school. Some of them have given up by the time they get to my class, and I've had kids tell me I can pronounce (and even spell) their names however I want to. I resist that, though: your name is important. It's not "just for identification purposes" - it's much deeper than that, a very important part of your identity. People should get it right. Or, at least, they should try to.

1 comment:

Walking to China said...

Amen! Or 很好!