Tuesday, 17 March 2015


I am resisting the urge to begin with Mr. Shakespeare's cliched quote. "What's in a name?" I won't discuss Montagues, Capulets and Friar Lawrences. But as we approach the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, I would like to talk about nomenclature.

If writing wasn't my passion, the frequency of Google Book and BabyCenter.ca searches for naming lists would overwhelm. Reading down a sample on Google Books several months ago, I found for my current novel Montsho which was a name from Africa. I benchmarked Syed and Hafsah off those I have personally met. But having unconsciously internalized naming my characters for their ethnic or religious background, it is more than walking out of my school at 11 AM or finally discovering the meanings to my friends' names.

Unless I am speaking to a person from a racial minority, reading a piece of nonfiction, reading a resource from another country or writing a saturated solution of words, I rarely hear the name of a person from a racial minority. In the simplest actions from display names on Best Buy catalogue-printed home phones to job interview articles I only see Anglophone names. John Smiths on handheld phones. Bobs being interviewed. Very few Aishas, Tanishes or Zhangs . I believe names of racial minorities are underrepresented in today's developed society. Furthermore, within different backgrounds' representative public populations are name misrepresentations themselves.

Since kindergarten I encountered those whose culture of their last name contrasted with the culture of their first name. Once in a while we discovered their "Chinese name" which they were called at home, knowing them for their "English name" which they were called at school. One of my sister's former friends, South-Asian-descended, had an "English name" for school and a "real name" her parents called her. When I attend events on campus or introduce myself to team members on a project I hear, "My name is -" (a name inserted) "- but you can call me -" (another name inserted). I sometimes discovered only (though suspected earlier) seeing their email address or the moment they put their real name on a group assignment paper. Beyond it I wondered why some of those that were Aboriginal had Anglophone names as surely their culture didn't event names so similar to another culture by themselves. Surely you'd need to be in Europe or have connections such as both Islam, Christianity and Judaism using the name Sara(h) to have such a similar name.

Immigrating to and being born in countries where the Anglophone or Latin-based government declares the national language a Latin-based language and Anglophone-based names such as John, Kelly or Robert are widespread, many change their names to improve their integration into their culture or better earn a living. In a study released in 2009, researchers submitted false, similarly qualified resumes, some with Anglophone names and some with non-Anglophone names. They found that an applicant who appeared to be white would "send nine applications before receiving a positive response of either an invitation to an interview or an encouraging telephone call," said the Guardian's Rajeev Sayal. "Minority candidates with the same qualifications and experience had to send 16 applications before receiving a similar response."

Don't get me wrong. I appreciate Latin-based and Anglophone names. Some of the closest people in my life have Latin-based and Anglophone names and they render me a watermelon-loving-and-engineering gratitude machine. Some even supported me as I began my blog. A dystopia I wrote a year ago therefore held my antagonist Alejandro, heir to Alexandro, meant to have a son if I had not despised his existence. Entering Torontonian street names into Google Search I found another character in my to-be-written novel, Eglantine, a type of British flower or a Biology teacher. As for my protagonist I am considering a Latin-based middle name (which, similar to a person's name I know, I shall conceal). I neither prefer nor devalue Latin-based names, including Anglophone names, to non-Latin-based names. When I write, I strive that the As, Bs and Cs on my screen flash in the As, Bs and Cs that the world's cultures and religions brought to my story setting. I believe we need both non-racial-minorities and racial minorities to understand the spectrum of nomenclature.

Whether with a monetary price tag to its head or indirect, no person's worth on this planet deserves to be based on their stereotype, the hypothetical lack of melanin in their name, than rather what they offer to success. No person deserves to be on the receiving end of the perception that that one's worth from childhood to the day one seeks a living, pays off debt and saves for retirement is based on the combination of characters in one's name rather than the combinations of the strengths in the person's character. It is time to stop weighing two pure samples of copper and assuming one is an alloy. It is time to build a system where we are measured by what we contribute rather than what evolution contributed to our skin.

When hearing "My name is -" something "- but you can call me -" another-something, professors and TAs state to "go by the name you want to be called" with little effect. Yet it is a start. What else can we do? Answers are simple. Don't comment on others' names negatively for the culture or religion they are from. Don't frown upon a person with a name representing a racial minority with none more than a few letters off an alphabet to judge. Are you an employer? Forget about what the name reminds you of. What do the qualifications suggest? If they suggest a future coworker, perhaps it is time to set up an interview. There is so much you can do in your role, whether it be a manager, an employer, a supervisor, a counsellor, a teacher, a TA, a coworker, a classmate or lecture-hall mate, a friend, a published author, a home phone marketing team member, a future author or just another person to start a culture of not tolerating, not accepting but embracing the range of human nomenclature.

- FA

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