Respect names

This is something that often happens in English-speaking schools to kids from other cultures:

  • A kid has a non-English name
  • The teacher decides it would be better if they had an English name
  • They give the kid a different name, and refuse to call them their actual name
  • Or heavily pressure the kid into changing their name

This also happens to some kids in foster care. Their foster parents or social workers will decide that their name is a problem, and assign them a different name.

Some reasons adults in power will cite for doing this to kids in their care:

  • The name is hard to pronounce
  • Other kids make fun of the name
  • A kid with a non-English name will feel different from the other kids
  • Having a different name will make it easier for the kid to assimilate into English-speaking culture
  • And then the teacher makes the kid use a different name, one that’s more usual in English

Don’t do this. Names are important. It’s not ok to change someone else’s name.

It’s actually *more* important not to change a kid’s name if other kids are making fun of it, because:

  • You’re teaching the kid that their name is wrong
  • And that it’s their own fault they’re being bullied, that it’s because they’re weird
  • It also teaches the bullies that it’s ok to bully people for having weird names, and that they’re entitled to have other people erase themselves for their sake
  • A kid who is being bullied for their name will also be bullied for other things, especially if they are from a non-English-speaking culture
  • Changing the kid’s name will not stop this, it will just make the rest of it harder to take

Names are important. Respecting someone’s name is part of respecting them as a person. It’s not ok to change their name for your convenience.

Name changes for private reasons

lunethefool asked realsocialskills:

…TW for CSA, abuse: I was sexually abused by my mother for years when I was a kid. She named me after her illicit lover, and I kind of hate that sometimes because that’s how she treated me too. I want to change my name, at least socially if not legally, but I don’t know how to explain the change. I’m not comfortable telling everyone the truth.

First and foremost, you don’t owe people an explanation, and you don’t have to offer one. Some people will want to ask invasive questions, but you don’t have to answer.

In my experience (as someone who’s been through a couple of name changes), people are usually much more curious about your new name than they are about your reasons for changing it. For that reason, I would suggest that you consider picking a new name that is *not* symbolically related to the abuse you experienced, or to anything else painful. I find it much more comfortable to deal with discussing my name now that I’ve changed it to something easily explained without reference to any of my painful reasons for changing it.

Also, if you coin a new word to name yourself, it will sound ethnic to people who treat folks outside their group as self-narrating zoo exhibits, and they will ask you invasive questions about your background. You might decide that’s ok with you, but it’s something to be aware of. I wasn’t really prepared for how draining that was when I had that kind of name.

If you choose a name that sounds like a hippie name, people will ask you if you had hippie parents. If you’re changing your name because of parental abuse, this might be worth avoiding.

A friend of mine once suggested this script for a man who wanted to change his name legally:

  • Why do you want to change your name?
  • “For spiritual reasons.”
  • What are they?
  • “I can’t really tell you much about that.”

This worked well for him in court. It might also work well interpersonally. I’m not sure. What works for me is to have a very short explanation, and not offer further details.

Some possibilities:

  • I go by x now.
  • I actually go by x now.
  • I’m changing my name to x in honor of my grandfather.
  • I’ve decided to go by my middle name.
  • I’m using my religious name now (actual religious names have specific words used to refer to them, but I don’t know what they’re called for very many religions).
  • I wanted to reconnect with my heritage, so I’m going by x now.

If you want people to stay out of it, don’t give them a way into it. It’s probably better not to tell them that you have painful history with your original name, because some people will take that as an invitation to evaluate your decision. The only way to win that game is not to play. You don’t have to discuss it with anyone. I don’t discuss my names with very many people. Push come to shove, all they really need to know is what name you prefer to be called by.