Column: Appreciate the value of names

Shelby Niehaus, Copy Editor

There is a man who lives on Frontage Road in my hometown. He owns a hotel and calls himself Neil. I frequently see him in my gas station when he needs fuel or feels like playing instant lottery. We stand around and chat a lot: sometimes about his business, sometimes about his kids.

He has a rewards card at my store. When I scan it at the register, his name is different. It’s a Gujarati name.

It isn’t a long name. It isn’t complicated. It doesn’t even incorporate sounds that aren’t common in English. Still, he introduces himself as Neil to his mostly Caucasian neighbors.

He wants desperately to be accepted into the community like the county coroner and the mechanic and the grocer are, but he’s one of the only Indians in town, and even the locals who have known him for years tend to keep him at arm’s length. His Americanized name helps other people accept him as a part of our community better.

It’s still sad to watch him use a nickname, however. His name is significant to him and to his origins. His kids proudly wear their own Gujarati names with pride.

The problem lies with those of use whose names are “normal”— the ones of us who have European names or commonly used names. We enjoy the comforts of having our names pronounced correctly every day. We usually aren’t asked where our family comes from and how to make that just-right sound at the center of our given names, or if maybe, just for this once, we could use a nickname—something more palatable for our friends and associates who aren’t willing to learn something new.

Stop proposing nicknames as a peace offering to people whose names you can’t pronounce. Learn how to pronounce a new name and commit to that new name. It’s an integral part of someone’s humanity, their origins and their family history.

Additionally, stop making fun of names that sound odd. This is an issue that usually affects African-Americans, but often falls on foreign-sounding or uncommon names as well. A name is an intensely personal part of someone’s life, and your opinion has nothing to do with the history packed into a name.

Imagine how it feels when your name is butchered. Do you feel offended? Do you feel like a part of you has been trampled on by circumstance or by an uncaring other?

Imagine how that feels when your name is uncommon or foreign. Translate that feeling into a constant sensation.

Don’t let someone else be belittled constantly by your insistence on butchering names and passing out placeholder titles.

Learn to pronounce every name of every person in your life and uphold the value of their names as a marker of their personhood.

Shelby Niehaus is a junior English and English language arts major. She can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].