Immigration, Assimilation, Ethnicity and All That Jazz

Criticizing Integration Part One: Names

Posted by chinesecanuck on April 9, 2008

I have a western name. It is part of my legal name. My parents, like many other parents of Chinese descent (who are from Hong Kong), gave me a western given name and a Chinese given name. Both names, plus my (very Chinese) last name are on all my documents. For some reason, there are people who find that unacceptable, perhaps even “giving in” to white culture, and it’s seen as a bad thing amongst many people. Especially here in Canada, where Multiculturalism is an official policy. I really don’t understand why they’re asking this. Do people seriously think that my parents aren’t going to teach me about my culture because my name isn’t Ming Lei or something like that? I even get that from so-called “cultural sensitivity” trainers (more on in another post…..let’s just say that I have major issues with many of them). What’s wrong with having a western name, anyway? I only know perhaps two or three people of Chinese descent under the age of 40 or 45 who DO NOT have western names.

I realize that some cultures are more likely to not give western names, but you shouldn’t assume that all do not do so. One should also not criticize. You shouldn’t go on and on about how giving a western name is “giving in” to the former colonists.  I’ve heard of stories where someone from a very traditional culture decided to name a kid, say, Jacqueline, and then family members went beserk. I’m sorry, but unless there’s someone named Jacqueline/Jackie who did something really horrible to you, there’s nothing wrong with Jacqueline. I think it’s a very graceful, lady-like name. ONE DOES NOT LOSE TOUCH WITH ONE’S CULTURE JUST BECAUSE ONE HAS A NAME FROM ANOTHER CULTURE! I don’t think family members should get upset if the name the parents of a baby chooses isn’t from their culture.  Especially if the child is growing up in an English speaking country.  I think it’s rude to criticize, even if you factor in religion.  My first name has pagan roots.  I was baptized in a Catholic church (though I ended up in an Anglican school….more on that in another post).  Sure, you can talk about Christianity’s roots with paganism, but still, my name isn’t a saint’s name.  And it isn’t an “y” name either (nick names and names that were common in previous generations seem to be common for Hong Kong Canadians….growing up, I knew a girl named Peggy.  You don’t hear too many white women under 45 named Peggy.  They are Megs.

Anyway, what do you think?  Why do people criticize westernized names?  Why are some cultures less likely to give their children western names? Even if they’ve been here for decades?  Do you think it’s wrong?  Do you think relatives should criticize?  What’s worse, criticizing family members or non-family members?

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One Response to “Criticizing Integration Part One: Names”

  1. Alston said

    Such critics would deny who you are, and have lost sight of certain worthy goals for people from (stereo?)typically marginalized groups. Namely the ability to have pride in who you are, rather than submit to who they want you to be. Who else does that? The group they criticize the most.

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