22 July 2010

"My name is Dragon!"

Sometimes Japanese people take English names to use at the schools we work at because it's easier for the Native teachers to pronounce them than to pronounce Japanese names. I think this is ridiculous - your name is your name and you shouldn't change it because some people who come to your country to work have a hard time pronouncing it. But this is a choice a grown person makes so I've never said anything to anyone other than Aimee.

This past weekend I worked at a kids summer party at one of my schools. Basically my job was to play games with each of the groups of 20 or so kids who rotated around the different game centres in the building. The last group of the day was the largest and also the most disturbing. My conversation with the first kid who came in illustrates this:

Mike: "Hello! What's your name?"
Kid: "My name is Dragon!"

At first I thought this was cute. The kid wanted to be a dragon so he called himself Dragon. I asked the next kid:

Mike: "What's your name?"
Kid: "My name is Bear."

Ok, maybe this kid likes bears? At this point most of the kids had come into the room and I started looking at their "My name is ____" name tags and was thoroughly disturbed. Here are some of the highlights:

  • A group of 5 or 6 boys came in and they were all named after colours. I had a Blue, Green, Red, Yellow and Orange.
  • Dispersed throughout the group were common animals. I had a Dog, Cat, Mouse, Snake and Bear.
  • The worst was the group of girls named Chocolate, Cinnamon and Candy. They had no idea that if they lived in North America they would be destined to become strippers.

Wanting your kids to learn another language is a good thing. Languages are useful and anyone who can speak more than one language has a huge leg-up in life - especially if that language is English. However, it is ridiculous to go so far as to give your children English names thinking that this helps the process. It is especially ridiculous when those names aren't even names! If the group were any larger they would have had to start giving the kids numbers as names.

Maybe I'm making a light situation into something it's not but wouldn't renaming your child make them feel like their real name isn't good enough or is worthless in another country? When I was learning Japanese at university my Japanese friends gave me a Japanese name (it's Masato and it means "elegant and graceful person," which I am). They would call me Masato when they helped me with my Japanese or when I helped them with their English but I never thought about changing my name. My name is part of my identity.

I don't think that changing part of a child's identity is a good thing. If I were one of those children I immediately would have questioned why I needed to have an English name just to go to an English party. Children are already easily confused as it is. Why would a parent willingly add to that confusion?


  1. I dunno. Taking English names at a party sounds pretty analogous to your Masato situation. It's like a nickname. Nicknames are fun (as long as they're nice) — I find being called a nickname is endearing because it requires a level of familiarity and kinship with the nickname-user; strangers use your real name, not your nickname.

  2. I dunno... the name was given to me - it wasn't one that I adopted myself. And most of the time it's not just at parties that the kids take names. Some of the children in my kids classes take English names throughout their enrollment at the school we teach at.

    What's even more disturbing is that after I made this post we found out that it's an ECC policy for the staff to take English names when they get hired. Most of the schools don't enforce the policy but some of them do. I can't imagine being forced to take another name.