Saturday, April 5, 2008

Identity Theft

I once overheard a couple of teachers talking about a little girl. Her name, I knew, was Luz (pronounced “loose”) and means “light” – it’s quite a pretty name. However, they were referring to her as Luz (pronounced “was”) and I thought the little girl could not be happy with her name being pronounced that way. And then there was a teacher who complained a boy was not paying attention, even when she called to him. I wanted to say to her, “But you’re not calling him by his name!” I kept quiet, though, because people often don’t want to admit that they are not as culturally sensitive as they should be.

Let’s look at this name thing like this. When I was born, my father kissed my little forehead and named me. He and my mother completed and signed an official form, as new parents do, declaring my complete name – first, middle, and last. A few months later, a priest confirmed this name to relatives, friends, and the community – in a church, with oil and water, and a prayer.

There are official and ceremonial events by which we are named. Most cultures celebrate, in some manner, the naming of a child. Many Americans spend a great deal of time choosing just the right name for their children – it has to sound right, it has to “go with” the last name, it has to be special, or different. We name our children after loved ones, leaders, people we admire.

And once we are named, we are that name. I once read somewhere that one’s name is the sweetest sound to them. Want to make sure someone is paying attention to you? Start by saying their name. Indeed, the first thing we do at a social gathering is tell people our name, and find out theirs. When we bump into someone we haven’t seen in a while, we struggle a bit to remember his or her name, don’t we? We don’t want to embarrass ourselves by saying the wrong name, and certainly don’t want the person to think we have forgotten who they are!

I have never given anyone permission to change my name. And I know for a fact that most people around me feel the same. It’s evident when we correct those who mispronounce our name, or spell it incorrectly. Or when we cringe as someone totally butchers our name.

Out of respect for you, I make a conscious effort to say your name correctly. And only when you and I become more familiar, do I use your nickname. But I don’t change your name because it’s hard to say, I can’t pronounce it, or it’s different. It is good manners, proper social behavior, and just plain right to say your name, your real name, your true name, the name that you want to be known by.

I don’t understand why teachers (or other school staff) change students’ names. Who are we to do that? Who has given the school the right to alter a child’s identity? The community I teach in is made up of predominantly Hispanics, or Latinos, who for the most part, have Spanish names. Sure, for some, these names may pose a level of linguistic difficulty or discomfort. Many professionals resort to altering, adjusting, shortening, or just plain changing children’s names. What’s wrong with Juan and Miguel? And how did Marisol Jimenez become Mary Jim-in-ess?

Although trivial to some, this name thing worries me. I urge everyone to make the effort to know their students and use their real names. Remember that your name is part of your identity. As educators, we should be supporting a student’s identity, rather than taking parts of it away. We may find that, as we pay respect to a child or an adult by saying their name correctly as it was intended to be said, we will have won for ourselves that person’s respect, admiration, and heart. And they will most certainly pay attention.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your support! I will most certainly contact you as I delve into my studies :)

I couldn't agree with you more :) My sister's name is Nydia and when she was in second grade her teacher called her what sounds like "lydia" in English, but with an "n". To this day it has stuck with her...thats what she goes by! I encouraged her to pronounce her name the way our mother says it.

In years past, one way I have addressed this with my students, as I noticed some of them were starting to pronounce their name with "English" accents. (I noticed this with my Spanish-speaking kindergarners one year.) I encouraged students to remeber they have 2 ways to say their name in English and in Spanish. Sometimes I would day their name in "English" and other time in "Spanish". They always laughed when I would say their name in "English."

That being said...
I got a taste of what non-Spanish speakers struggle with in terms of pronunciation when I interned in Dearborn, MI and found myself struggling to properly pronounce Arab/Muslim names. It was hard! This was before I observed what my students were doing. I think my approach was a nice balance. It certainly doesn't excuse changing students name...but it made me realize that it can be hard and challenging at time to say someone's name using an accent Im not accustomed to.

I look forward to following your blog!


S.Mateus said...

ahora si tengo nombre....antes fui "anonymous"....see comment above...

gwen said...

I have been fighting the loose/luzz war for years! If I ask the kids what they prefer, sadly many want the "Americanization." I love Luz and still call her by her given name, and I know she appreciates it, and so does her mother.

Roger Frank said...

Hi Cassy,
I returned to your blog via your twitter post. What a great entry this was! When you wrote "I once read somewhere that one’s name is the sweetest sound to them." I nodded because I read the same thing once and believe it to be very true.

I teach adults and even though I speak Spanish as a second language, I still have trouble initially with some names. I work through it until I get it right, because I believe a person's name is so important for many of the reasons that you point out in your post.

I'm continually shocked with the cultural insensitivity of many people. It seems that one should be able to pronounce Luz correctly.

Hasta luego,