Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Can proper names be improper?

By Karen Stanley

There does seem to be a lot of acceptance of non-traditional names in the US. But I used to worry about Vietnamese students who used their Vietnamese names when they were close to content words in English with off-color connotations - Dung, Phuk, etc.

If they had been children, it might have been a different story, but as far as I can see, as adults their names have simply been absorbed into the naming conventions of Charlotte, North Carolina. Along with Jesus, Milagros, Jose Fernando. Aissam, Marboub, Safah, Mouin, Eun Kyung, Sun, Jun-il. I currently have a Thai student - a very cheerful young man who uses a shortened form of his Thai name: Kitti. Another Thai student is Pook. It doesn't seem to be a problem.

Of course, my father (who grew up way back in the hills of Virginia) was Morris Burns Stanley, and he had brothers named Denver Pershing Stanley and Billie Bird Stanley. It is true that Uncle Billie went by William B., regardless of the name on his birth certificate. I've also heard that young American males named Randy got a few laughs but managed to survive life in the UK.

Quite a few students coming from China (but fewer than there used to be) have chosen English names; few students that I have from other parts of the world use anything but the names they were given by their parents at birth - or a version thereof.

In fact, from time to time I have known students to truly *resent* the fact that some Americans won't at least try to pronounce their real names. Of course, when I was a child, every time I got angry at my parents I would start erasing my given name from my books and writing in a name of my choice...So perhaps there is a kind of freedom in being able to choose your own name...

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