Posted: March 18th, 2023
Names are important and so this has been proved in countless ways in different societies. In some traditional societies, for example, names are believed to have some connection with a child’s destiny or future. If he is given a name with good meanings, he is believed to grow up being just that- a good person. There may be little truth in this connection of names with character or destiny, still naming is an art that every society wants to excel in. some people are of the view that if we rename an object or person, there is a chance that he or she might start acting differently, as if they had suddenly developed a new personality. This happens to Santha in ‘By any other name’ whose name is changed to Cynthia in an English school thereby giving birth to a new changed person who felt she was living in a new body and felt distant in school environment where her real name was deliberately suppressed. Such is the influence of names and this brings us to an important aspect of names. Names are our identity and they are also a source of strength to us as they connect us with our own heritage and culture. Sarah and Kizzy are not just two different names; they are also representatives of different cultures and roots that add to the personal strength of the child. Names are extremely important for the protection and preservation of one’s heritage and past. This is what we saw in the case of African-Americans who had once believed that by changing their names to Harry and Dylan, might make assimilation process easier and make them feel connected with white society. However once they became aware of extreme suffering of their ancestors, they gave up such desire to relate and connect and began naming their children after important African-American figures to be able to hold on to their unique and separate identity.
Thompson (1995) argues, “When people in a wealthy society are denied access to a piece of the pie, as African-Americans traditionally have been, there arises among them a desire to create, to the extent possible, their own society, with its own rules. Certainly, lack of economic opportunity is a primary factor in the tendency of so many young men to turn to the illegal drug trade. I don’t condone their actions — but I understand the impulse that leads to them.”
In almost the same way, African-Americans have adopted a unique dressing and conversing style that helps them stand apart from whites and thus preserves their identity. But if you have name like Harry and you are African-American, you might have difficulty connecting with your own culture or past. For this reason, minorities try to stick with their own type of names, which remind them of their own culture, and help them create and preserve a separate unique identity. When Santha is given a new name Cynthia, she felt strange and totally disconnected. She didn’t like her school where she felt like a stranger and even behaved like one and where she was forced to give up her identity.
Names therefore play an extremely important role in preservation of identity and they help in connecting and relating with the world. Renaming a person leads to the development of strange behavior and disconnection with the world around as happens to Santha. These names are a person’s identity and must be changed only if a person desires to give up old false identity and create a new one. For example, African-Americans after abolition of slavery were not exactly proud of their past and wanted to shun their old identity. For this reason, most black children were given white names so they could create a new identity for themselves. But once blacks realized that giving up heritage wasn’t exactly the right move, they switched back to black names, which helped them, feel like a strong but separate group in America with its own unique identity. Thompson (1995) captures the importance of naming and its link to racial integrity in these words: “I am a member of the last generation of black Americans whose parents didn’t give them names like Shaquana or Chaico. I grew up in predominantly black Washington, D.C., around older relatives with names like Pamela, Harry, and Catherine; I attended school with Roberts, Lisas, and Darryls. It wasn’t until the late 1970s, when the book and then the television miniseries “Roots” hit the black community with the force of a flood, that young parents began naming their children Kunta and Kizzy after Alex Haley’s ancestors.”
Cliff Thompson – Article Title: Inventing our names, our selves. Magazine Title: Commonweal. Volume: 122. Issue: 6. Publication Date: March 24, 1995
Santha Rama Rau, By any other name, Borzoi College Reader, page 146-151
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