Should we give our children neutral or immigrant sounding names?

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Pradip Rodrigues

A South Asian parent I know told me a rather funny story about his son’s first week at school. His 11-year-old was talking about Seth, Dan and Mo who he counted as friends. The parent was puzzled as he knew the school was 80 to 90 percent non-white and was wondering if his son had magically made friends with the only four white kids in his school. Turns out that Seth was actually Sathuran, Dan was Dhananjay, Mo was Mohammed. News flash! None of these kids wanted anyone to know their real names. Sathuran in fact gets most irritated if his own mother uses his name in public, I can only presume his parents now call him Seth.

The South Asian parent was upset to learn that his own son wanted to change his very immigrant sounding name to something more pronounceable. “I am tired of having to correct and help my teachers and others to pronounce my name or even spell it,” he said.

There is a tendency for immigrant parents in particular to name their children after grandfathers, great-grandfathers and other popular names from the villages and towns they left behind but sometimes it is just not practical in the real world.

One Muslim parent I know gave his child a neutral-sounding name, but he had to battle not just his wife but his own parents and in-laws and extended family who all insisted that he was doing his son a great disservice by not giving his son a distinctly Muslim name. They argued that he was in a way erasing his son’s identity or at least weakening it by giving him a name that was mainstream and easy to pronounce. The parent explained that it made absolutely no sense to give his son a name that he would anyway shorten or change in his teen and adult years. The irony was that many of those in his own family protesting his choice themselves had work names.

Many South Asian parents insist their kids feel proud of their culture and own their identity, which is fine, I guess.

I myself have an Indian name and people have always asked why I had an Indian name matched with a foreign-sounding last name. I guess my parents believed that having an Indian name in India would be a way of affirming integration.

Having an easy to pronounce Canadian name is practical and hundreds of thousands of working South Asians across the country can attest. I just think one should not rely on one’s name to convey one’s cultural or religious identity. Neutral sounding names works best in a multicultural society.

What we can learn from a 19-year-old international student
Last week I received a considerable amount of feedback on my column on international students facing housing from many Canadians of South Asian descent. This week I met with a 19-year-old international student who has come all the way from Delhi to do a Make Up Course at a college in Oakville.

She attends classes three times a week and works a full 40-hour week. All through summer she actually worked 55 hours, 7 days a week at three jobs. She is now self-sufficient and funding her own education and is paying off the loan her parents took out in India. She even has enough left-over money to take care of her rent and living expenses.

I admired this young 19-year-old and contrasted her work ethic with the 19-year-olds I know here. I have yet to meet a South Asian immigrant parent with self-supporting college going teenagers. If they aren’t living at home, their college and other living expenses are either subsidized or fully paid for by their parents. Many Canadian-born college teens who work part-time or during summer vacation use a good amount of their earnings if not all for their own expenses which include the latest clothing, eating out and entertainment in general. Why should they take up a more serious view of getting rid of their student debt when they have parents to pick up their slack?

This 19-year-old international student from Delhi is the only child of a middle-class Indian parents and is very mindful of their financial background. She is actually saving her money so she can bring her parents to Canada for a visit in two years. By that time she is confident of finding a proper job in her field.

Meanwhile, the average Canadian college student is drowning in debt and worrying themselves sick about whether they will ever well-paying jobs. International students meanwhile are the ones who are finding those jobs and are willing to work hard to achieve the Canadian Dream. Meanwhile I know so many South Asian parents who are having nightmares about the job prospects for their overly pampered teenagers. -CINEWS

 

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