Sunday, October 15, 2006

What’s in a name? by Frances Huang

Language and Culture – What’s in a name?
Frances Huang Mei-Tzu 1094100030

Names represent every single person. The first gift given to a new-born baby is certainly a name. The name carries the family’s love, blessing and their expectation of the baby’s future. For example, my name in Chinese is Huang Mei-Tzu, which means beauty and mercy and those are the qualities my family wish me to have. A man without a name is like an abandoned child without an identity, doesn’t know where he comes from. The importance of a name is universal, no matter what culture we are from, we have a name that stands for our ethnicity and family line. We should not give up our names easily.

However, during the period of immigrating to America, immigrants had to change their names, both involuntarily and voluntarily. Some people, like black slaves, were brought to American and forced to work for the white. Like insult added to injury, they were further deprived of their names and identities. Alas! They totally lost themselves in the new world. Also, some immigrants had to make their names easier or shorter for the immigration process. During that time, it was urgent for them to get into the country. They would do anything for it, even if it meant their names and identities must be sacrificed. On the other hand, some immigrants worshiped American powers. They wanted to blend in the American culture from inside to outside, from their living style to their names. So they were wiling to have an American name even if they didn’t look like one.

One thing that will never change is change itself. The “melting pot” that most of the immigrants wanted to melt in is now changing to a “salad bowl” where every racial group in it is getting united and influential. The urgency to blend in and survive in America has eased, like luxury comes after the basic needs. When the immigrants have all settled in America and names are no longer a problem for immigration, they started to think of their roots and heritages. The ethnic consciousness has arisen among different racial groups living in the States. It might be dangerous because racial division will cause the government to have difficulty running the country and the potential of racial conflicts within the country might rise.

In Chinese culture, names, especially family names, are very important. There are sayings that reflect that names show one’s identity, like “Walk without changing the first name, sit without changing the family name.” which means “Whatever I do is magnanimous, so I will not have to hide my name.” However, cases of changing names happen in this society as well. When a man becomes a son-in-law who lives in the wife’s home and assumes the role of a son, the man is considered changing his family name, because his won sons will inherit his wife’s family name. Another reason for changing names is for a better fortune and life. Fortune telling is common in Taiwan, and name fortune telling is quite popular. Believers change their names with hope of changing their fate and wish to bring luck and prosperity to themselves in the future. But I think that is the power of self-hypnotism, you believe that your fate is changed and then you act on that way, eventually good things will happen.

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