Wednesday, September 29, 2010

what's in a name?

I've read Freakonomics a while ago, and similarly to many people, really liked it. Today I spotted on the an interview with the maker of Supersize Me, who is also making a movie based on Freakonomics. The subject of the interview was the fascinating chapter about the impact of names on one's success. I thought it was really great, and gave a lot to think about and offered more than one ways of interpreting the facts and study results.
What put me off on CNN though, was that the title for a link to this interview was "Is your name holding you back?" I know that not all of the names discussed in the book are based on racial or ethnic divisions, but it was the focus of the main study (Sending identical CVs, one with obviously African-American name, the other with Anglo-Saxon sounding name. The latter ones got 35% more responses.).
I find that the title suggests that it's the person's (or his/her parents') fault that others are bigots. Instead of calling it what it might be (racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and various other -isms) the responsibility and blame is thrown on the victim. The speaker suggested that the parent should think twice before giving a kid ethnic name. I am glad that the guy pointed out that the problem is across the board, and calling a child "Hillbilly" name might be risky in a way as well (associating stereotypes about people from rural areas etc.). But again, the problem is not the name, the problem is the prejudice and racism.

At the same time I do think that there should be a minimum of control over the names given to children. In Poland there is too much control (as in many other European countries) - your choice of name needs to be approved. If it's a foreign form of existing Polish name or if the name is offensive, the office may refuse. If the name is foreign, but you have a valid reason (minority, ethnicity etc.) then it is accepted.

I don't care for the "foreign" idea. Yes, it sound silly and weird in Polish if you came with English-sounding names, but I guess after a while people would get used to it.

But I do think that the control over possibly offensive names is a good idea. It is against the freedom of parents, that's true - but then, we limit the freedom of parents when we see they abuse their children. Giving a child an offensive name is a form of child abuse in my book. A child who is named "bitch" or similar, is set from the start for an emotional hardship and abuse. There should be at least an advice issued to reconsider the idea.

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