Taking pride in your name: Ethnic vs. nonethnic

A common issue among children of immigrant parents is the use of Ethnic names.  They are difficult to pronounce, hard to spell, and sometimes are the butt of all jokes in elementary school.  Per the name of this blog my perspective comes from the Ethiopian American experience.  I know of Ethiopians who give their children, American names, or names that are common in both the American culture and Ethiopian culture.  They do this in an attempt to protect their child from teasing or make it easier and socially acceptable for American’s or member’s of other ethnic groups to pronounce.  But here’s my question: What is a parent teaching their child by adapting to the American culture by naming their child something that is clearly not within the list of Ethiopian cultural names?  What about the idea of having an American version and an Ethiopian version to your name?  Yes , we are all guilty of utilizing a different pronunciation of our name when explaining it to an American colleague , classmate or friend.   I obviously do not expect people to pronounce my name the way my mother or father intended it to be said, however I do expect people to try to get as close as possible.

After attending two graduations two weekends in a row, I realized : the person that announces the names of the graduates absolutely butchers each ethnic name.  These graduates worked hard for however many years in their respective programs and at that very moment when their moment of glory and success is about to be celebrated the man/woman who is announcing the names destroys the pronunciation.  Talk about a slap in the face.  So what is the solution? Should parents reconsider what they name their child to avoid such humiliation? Should they make their children feel as though their name is not enough?  NO!!! Here’s my opinion: Parents should name their child however they want, give the ethnic Ethiopian name, name your child after your great grandmother with an obscure name , make it super ethnic, and then TEACH YOUR CHILD TO BE PROUD OF THAT NAME.  Teach your child to pronounce it with pride, explain the meaning, and make them proud to be who they are.  That’s what I truly believe. 

Yes, it is difficult to pronounce certain letter combinations in Ethiopian names, especially “ts” “ke” “che”, but even still- I think part of self confidence comes from being proud of where you come from, and if your parents gave you a super ethnic name be proud of it.  Say it correctly let other people butcher it, don’t do the butchering for them.  If you want I think its completely fine to come up with a nickname to shorten it, whatever it is you want to do, but be proud of who you are.  Never change anything about yourself or your culture just to make someone else’s life easier.  #Imjustsaying #ethiopianamericangirl.

3 thoughts on “Taking pride in your name: Ethnic vs. nonethnic

  1. I feel you Cuz. With a name like Netsanet, I have very strong feelings about this subject but I am glad I wasn’t given a forum to express them when I was younger… because I would have spit fire condemning my parents for burdening me with such a name. I was determined to change my name to Kim or some other American name, the more common and easy to pronounce THE BETTER!

    However, after years of life experience and spelling my last name “K” “i” “f as in frank” “f as in frank” “l” “e” and then not even telling them my first name without spelling it first, I can say I couldn’t have chosen a better name than the one I have. I don’t have an accent, many people know I’m “something” but not sure what, and I can’t speak Amharic but I challenge anyone to question my roots with a name like mine. It is the one thing I have that clearly identifies my heritage. I even have it tattooed on me just in case…;)

    Yeah, it’s tough to deal with a name like Netsanet Mezgebe Kiffle that is often mistaken for a statement as opposed to a name. But it’s true what they say, “nothing worth having comes easy”. Would I suggest everyone to be so daring as to name their child something that requires a hyphen to fit on a driver’s licence? No. But if you are so inclined, more power to you. They’ll appreciate it when it matters. And when they butcher it, adopt my motto, “It’s all good, as long as you call me”. I’ll know what they’re saying;) That’s all that matters. Usually they care more than I do anyway.

  2. Obviously I completely understand where you’re coming from in this post and I agree with your sentiment! I think parents should keep giving their children ethnic names because it will be appreciated by both the child AND others when they get older. Changing your child’s name to be more “American” will not stop the teasing that happens in elementary school etc…kids will always find something to make fun of, it’s just the nature of adolescence.

    Personally, I continue to have a difficult time pronouncing my name to others who are not in my ethnicity. I try to find the perfect balance between pronouncing it in my Ethiopian accent and an American tone but that’s not easy! So I also understand the struggle and sometimes envy my sister because my parents gave her an easier name to pronounce lol 😉 But then I remember that my name is unique and lovely and it feels good when people outside of my ethnicity recognize that, which they often do!

    Kids will learn to be proud, they just need to be given the chance, like Netsanet and I!

  3. I appreciate your thoughts on this! I adopted my son, Yesuneh, when he was 19 months old and gave him the English name Henry – for all the reasons you gave. I regret it to this day, and try to call him Yesuneh instead whenever I can. He is only 8, and prefers his English name, but Yesuneh is still part of his legal name and I’m hoping he will go back to it as he gets older. I hope folks who are considering changing a child’s name will read your post!

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