Sunday, October 15, 2006

What's in a Name by Trisha Hsiao

What’s in a name?
by Trisha Hsiao

Name, universally contains with a given name and a surname. It represents one’s family and one’s identification. In Western countries, people were given their first names mainly from their parents or churches and follow the last name of their ancestors; in Eastern countries, people were given first names from parents, genealogy or fortunetellers and follow their family names. No matter how they get their names, names surely signify their roots and recognition for most people. That is how they define themselves and their generations. However, for the immigrants or the aboriginals, it is not the same case.

For centuries, at the convenience of dominance, the names of immigrants and the aboriginals were assimilated to “easier” ones. Therefore, their ethnicity and the culture were discarded involuntarily. For instance, in United States, formerly called the melting pot, is nowadays a well-known salad bowl. People are seeking for their origins and their lost culture, for they were stripped their culture off when they entered this new country and melted in this pot. Now, they label themselves as a stew or goulash or curry as they consider their ethnic pride as the priority, or what in my opinion, a salad bowl. In a salad bowl, carrots are still carrots, lettuce remains as lettuce, but they still bond together. By tracing back their culture and genealogy, they can preserve their identity in this diversified society.

Besides retrieving mother tongues, folk customs and cultures, rectifying names is the most common means to herald ethnicity. To be honest, some just want to get on the bandwagon and to get some attention; some hope to get rid of the complex of the funny homonym that their names might bring them; some want to label their original nationality, and some gain pride and self-esteem from their original names. As the matter of fact, names connect family’s history and people’s conception. It is a tag that you perceive yourself and influence others’ perception.

Name is like the clothes we wear. It affects others’ perception of us and sometimes, it marks us in good ways and bad ways. It has a magical power to gain or to destroy your confidence. It could fetch your self-esteem by labeling your race, but when your name has a homonym of unfavorable meanings, for instance, anus, ward, or die, you feel shameful of your origin. In addition, when somebody in your family was a notorious person or a criminal, you would not be proud of it. Take myself as an example, my family name Hsiao, in Chinese it is pronounced as the first tone, but it sounds like “crazy” in Taiwanese when you pronounce it with the fourth tone (the falling tone). It influences my confidence of my family tremendously. When I was young, I never wanted to introduce my family name to the others. There is even a slang describing my village, Shetou, as “There are half of crazy people in Shetou.”, for the reason that more than 50% of residents in my village whose last name is Hsiao. Even now, when I introduce myself in English, I always try hard not to emphasize the stress on my last name. I still have a complex of it, not only because all my nicknames came from my last name but also because people often make fun of my last name. No doubt, names surely make a great impact on people’s perception of oneself.

To eliminate some exclusiveness, in the beginning of 20th century, being Americanized is a first and the must for immigrants and aboriginals, they changed their names in order to adapt to new circumstance, but most of the time they are involuntary. Homogeneity was believed to be what united this new found land. An Americanized name was the notion of belonging of the same entity. Same case happened in Taiwan for the aboriginal habitants as well. Some gave up their origins for what they believed as the definition for a country, but this belief now faces the challenges. It is no longer the problem of being hyphenated as a legal citizen or having a localized name; it is how you define yourself. Everyone starts to put their ethnic pride in the front burner. However, as Henry Giroux, a professor of education and cultural studies at Pennsylvania State University said this shift could create a tribalism that might cause an ethnic exclusion within the country. If every ethnic group becomes ethnocentric, it will create conflicts between different ethnic groups. All men are created equal. Only if every ethnic group has the tolerance and respects toward each other, will we have a peaceful and diverse culture. What is in your name represents not only your origin and culture, but also what you embody in yourself.

YE4A 1094100041

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