Names Searched Right Now:
Page 1 of 2 1 2 LastLast
Results 1 to 5 of 6
  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2013
    Posts
    1,673

    Taking Back the Names?

    When I attended the Univeristy of California at Davis in the early 80's, I learned of a new movement called "Take Back the Night". Lovely lilac-colored T shirts were printed and women (and probably men) took to the streets in the night to protest how women have been kept house-bound by justifiable fears of the night streets.

    (Indeed, the school football team had just organized a Safe Walk Home program for undergraduate women but some of the participating football player escorts had raped the women they were supposed to be safeguarding.)

    Ever since then, I have loved the idea of "taking back" what was once mine, such as the freedom to safely walk to the library and back in the dark.

    I think of the concept of "taking back" words that have been used to stereotype and malign certain groups: nasty words for women, African-Americans, GLBT folks, etc. There is a power (albeit a double-edged power) in the group itself claiming those hard-edged terms themselves, as if to say, "This word you call me has no power coming from you; I take it for my own use."

    And a number of recent nameberry threads have caused me to ponder this "Take Back" notion in a new context: names.

    Some believe that names that began as regular names but then were subverted by a very bad group (racists, slavers, Nazis, and others), deserve to be "taken back" to a respectful status.

    Names like Jemima, Remus, Adolph, Benito, Manson, Wilkes, and many, many more.

    Others believe that to "take" them back is to ignore and forget their lurid uses, an unacceptable form of cultural amnesia.

    Quite a few of us are split on this topic. We might feel OK about resurrecting the old Biblical Jemima, but draw the line at Adolph and Wilkes, or vice versa. Some have a strong desire to bring the name out into the open, to cleanse it as it were, while others deem this inappropriate, even impossible.

    There are names of people and places that to some or many connote evil and misery: Persephone, Ophelia, Romeo, Iago, Ivory, Lucifer. Others find redemption in the suffering of these characters.

    I was struck by English women writing of young girls who have been tortured and killed recently and the societal recoiling from such names. I was also struck though by a counter-claim that such names rise greatly in popularity at these times. I don't know which is true, but I know my new love of the name Polly came about in part from growing to care about a luminous young local girl who went missing then was found raped and murdered: Polly Klaas. She was such a shining girl and we mourned her as a community and the shine went into my perception of the name somehow.

    The place names are challenging too: while some insist that naming a girl India is worse than cultural insensitivity, others see varying reasons for the naming, and view India as larger than its hideous suffering at British hands. One wonders about other place names: if India is off-limits then wouldn't England logically be too? What about Havana, Quebec, Tanzania, Israel, China?

    And what about Native American names and names from ethnicities that have been co-opted by people mocking the culture: Guido and Luigi, possibly.

    I have questions too about the difference between "taking back" names and "taking" names. Taking back Jemima, whether a good idea or not, acknowledges both its strong Biblical history and its tainted use in minstrel shows. It is taking back something that began good.

    "Taking" is a bit different. Though it sounds bad, I don't know that it necessarily is. If I am English, Scottish, German, and Swiss-French (I am) and I name my children Juan, Sven, Deepak and Cherokee, am I "taking" something that is not mine?

    If I name my daughter Charles or James or Michael, am I "taking" something that is not mine to take?

    If I name my son Catherine, Sophia, or Jennifer, am I.... oh wait, that doesn't happen.

    If I name my son (or daughter) Rafael, but pronounce it "Raffle", am I "taking" something that is not mine to take?

    I'm curious what people think of the concept of taking back names in an effort to refurbish them with positive associations and of taking them to forge new traditions.

    I'm to the point where I have fewer answers than questions, which is maybe OK.
    Any (friendly) thoughts?

  2. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    Canada
    Posts
    1,643
    You've raised a lot of questions, so I'll respond a bit but probably not hit on all of your points.

    I also remember the Take Back the Night movement (seeing the marches on TV in the early 90s) and the Polly Klaas case, so I'm kind of reliving the early 90s at the moment. Interestingly, Justin Timberlake released a song recently called "Take Back the Night", without knowing about the marches or the organization, and he got into a bit of hot water for "taking" the name. [Apparently he has since resolved the issue. See this link for more details: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Take_Ba...ht_%28song%29] When I first heard the song, I had the same reaction I might have regarding some of those "off-limits" names: I was uneasy at the song because the title conjured up marching for the right not to be sexually harassed, while the song lyrics are sexual.

    "Taking back the night", as I recall, was mostly about women walking to assert their right to walk at night and not be harassed. To use Jemima as a comparison, "taking back" the name, then, would be about African Americans choosing to use Jemima to get past its prior usage as a slave name. White Americans using Jemima would not necessarily convey the same message, in the same way that a group of only men doing "Take back the night" would convey the message that women should be safe on the streets. We see a similar case with "taking back" slurs. Even if some African Americans have taken the n-word back for their own usage, it is still not acceptable for White Americans (or Canadians, or any other group really). That's the concern I have with names like Jemima, that it would still be perceived by African Americans not as "taking it back", but as ignorance over a difficult issue in history.

    Other names are really contextual and regional. As a Canadian, I would use Benedict in a heartbeat (except it doesn't go with my surname ) and Wilkes on its own would not make me think of the Lincoln assassination (though John Wilkes obviously would). Manson would be a bit weird. I love Paul, but Paul Bernard would be an absolute no-go for me as a combo due to a notorious local murderer. I can't imagine that combo wouldn't draw raised eyebrows from anyone from my city, but I would never expect it to be blacklisted by someone living elsewhere. As I mentioned on your earlier post, I have to remember that I'm naming someone else who will be affected by this name. I can "take back" Paul Bernard, but my kid is the one who will deal with people saying, "Like the murderer???"

    In general, though, I don't think any group or person "owns" names that can be "taken". It's more a matter of being sensitive to potential issues and having common sense.

    I'll answer some of your questions from my perspective:

    The place names are challenging too: while some insist that naming a girl India is worse than cultural insensitivity, others see varying reasons for the naming, and view India as larger than its hideous suffering at British hands. One wonders about other place names: if India is off-limits then wouldn't England logically be too? What about Havana, Quebec, Tanzania, Israel, China?

    I generally loathe place names, so I wouldn't use any of those! Ireland as a first name really sets my teeth on edge (and don't get me started on Irelynd or other misspellings). Israel, however, has long usage as a name, in fact Biblically it was a name before it was a country. A Jewish man named Israel would be normal to me. I know it has some history of usage among African Americans as well, so that doesn't seem weird either. This is my personal opinion only, but if a place was colonized by Europeans, use of the name on a person of from the colonizing country seems weird to me. So I'd find a white person named Rhodesia [yes, I know that's not a place name any more] or Kenya weird, but a French woman named France is okay (actually that is a French name). Havana, Quebec, Tanzania, and China all seem wacky to me. I mean, you CAN do whatever you want, but I sure would never use those names.

    "Taking" is a bit different. Though it sounds bad, I don't know that it necessarily is. If I am English, Scottish, German, and Swiss-French (I am) and I name my children Juan, Sven, Deepak and Cherokee, am I "taking" something that is not mine?

    Like I said on your previous post, you're not "taking" anything and you're free to use these names, especially as we live in a multi-cultural society. Of course, bear in mind that when you use the name, you're connecting yourself (and the bearer of the name) with that culture, so don't be surprised if people ask about it.

    If I name my daughter Charles or James or Michael, am I "taking" something that is not mine to take?

    I don't believe in the whole "stealing" names from one gender thing, even though in general, I dislike boys' names on girls. Once again, you CAN do it, but you're making a choice for your daughter and it's one that may cause her headaches.

    If I name my son (or daughter) Rafael, but pronounce it "Raffle", am I "taking" something that is not mine to take?

    No, but it does make you look ignorant and and sets your son up for a life time of correcting the pronunciation.

    I hope this helps. I'm basically thinking this through while typing, so I don't have all the answers either, but I am glad to ruminate on these issues with you. Obviously any use of "you" in your questions does not refer to my thought of you, personally, but is only because you used "I" in your questions.
    Miriam ~ Helena ~ Estella ~ Beatrice ~ Anastasia ~ Alice ~ Veronica ~ Sarah
    Paul ~ Wesley ~ Walter ~ Edmund ~ Isaac ~ Abram ~ Gabriel

    (Still) trying for baby#1
    Avatar: Nathan Altman, Portrait of Anna Akhmatova

  3. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2013
    Posts
    1,673

    I agree

    about "taking back" Jemima or Remus being one thing if an African-American did it and another if another ethnicity did it.

    If I, as a European-American named my daughter Jemima, it would be taking it back to what it spent centuries as: a beautiful Biblical name of Job's favorite daughter, as I remember it.

    I'm not saying I would do this, only that an argument can be made for someone doing this. And as I am not going to be having kids, it's a moot point at a literal level for me.

  4. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2013
    Posts
    274
    I suppose Ive never gotten on the "its one thing if this race does it, its another thing if this other race does it." I am multi-racial and I grew up in a very diverse and multicultural area, so everybody has always been a big blend of everything. I wholeheartedly believe that there is not a single person on this planet who isn't a mix of 2 or more races. And I certainly don't think one race or one religion or one subset of people in any way can "lay claim" to a certain name. To look at me you would never know that I was Native American or Israeli or any type of "person of color" because I just look like a plain old white girl. So how would you KNOW whether to be offended that I used Israel or Cheyenne as a name? I mean how would you know that I named my daughter because my great-grandfather was a Chief? How would you know anything about me at all? Would you ask, then decide to be offended if I was just a little European mutt? Or would you just assume that I'm just a "white girl" because you saw my light skin and red hair? How would you react? Would you chastise me for using a very ethnic name on a "white" baby? And how stupid would you feel when I then gave you a rundown of my family history and you realized that I have more claim to the name Dakota than you have to the name Joseph? Honestly, it never made sense to me...

  5. #9
    Join Date
    Nov 2013
    Posts
    1,673

    You

    Quote Originally Posted by tarynamber View Post
    I suppose Ive never gotten on the "its one thing if this race does it, its another thing if this other race does it." I am multi-racial and I grew up in a very diverse and multicultural area, so everybody has always been a big blend of everything. I wholeheartedly believe that there is not a single person on this planet who isn't a mix of 2 or more races. And I certainly don't think one race or one religion or one subset of people in any way can "lay claim" to a certain name. To look at me you would never know that I was Native American or Israeli or any type of "person of color" because I just look like a plain old white girl. So how would you KNOW whether to be offended that I used Israel or Cheyenne as a name? I mean how would you know that I named my daughter because my great-grandfather was a Chief? How would you know anything about me at all? Would you ask, then decide to be offended if I was just a little European mutt? Or would you just assume that I'm just a "white girl" because you saw my light skin and red hair? How would you react? Would you chastise me for using a very ethnic name on a "white" baby? And how stupid would you feel when I then gave you a rundown of my family history and you realized that I have more claim to the name Dakota than you have to the name Joseph? Honestly, it never made sense to me...
    is such a confusing word! I hope you weren't addressing me, but just a generic "you", because I actually agree with you. My father is huge into genealogy and I am excited each time when he finds a new nationality we are. Nor would I avoid naming my child a Welsh or Cornish or Greek or Lithuanian name I loved just because I am not those ethnicities. Nor would I judge someone who named their child a name from across the world.

    Lately I've been picturing some sort of name graphic listing all the names people shouldn't use, possibly super-imposed on a world map or a family tree. Sometimes the edicts that one must NOT EVER name their child X reminds me of our schools banning certain colors, for gang reasons. You MUST NEVER wear blue or red or name your child X.Y. or Z. There are reasons behind the caution, but overall, I don't like to be told what I can or cannot do, unless we are talking about toxins or the environment or speed limits or law breaking.

    However, I would still feel uncomfortable (personally) naming my daughter Pocahontas or Maria or my son Sven or Deepak. These names feel outside my ken, not inferior or bad, not forbidden, just outside my already huge name bank. Irrational? Maybe. Respectful? Maybe. Simply personal choice? Yes.

    PS Though I don't think of anyone - human or animal - as a mutt! I prefer the term hybrid vigor!
    Last edited by lesliemarion; January 18th, 2014 at 01:51 PM.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •