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What’s up with your name?

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“Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?”

Terry Pratchett

Your name creates an avenue to search for your sense of self and for others to interpret it. A lot of individuals who come to the U.S. to search for a better life struggle to find a name that would fit in with American society. 

I have seen a lot of international students adopt Westernized versions of their names so they sound more American. On the other hand, I have met local folks who decide to change their name as an escape shelter from their dark past. 

For foreigners, this action of changing their original name might be seen as a betrayal of their motherland and culture. However, in my opinion, there should be no judgment or prejudices toward someone’s decision to change or not to change their name. 

Indeed, there are personal and legitimate reasons to change your name. For instance, people might be forced to change their names to survive under the leverage of a political regime or the past associated with their name. Additionally, a foreign-sounding name might eventually positively impact or question our importance in society.

My grandfather — Leonid Honcharov

Oftentimes in the past, to avoid rejection and reprisal, less privileged ethnic groups have chosen names commonly recognized by the dominant branch of society. This motive has historically appeared amongst Jewish people, who often faced antisemitism related to their name and culture. More precisely, during the interwar years, an intensified regime of the Soviet Union actively was wiping out the reminders of the Russian Empire.

My grandfather, a survivor of the First and Second World Wars, changed his original name to be more easily accepted into the Red Army of the Soviet Union by concealing his Jewish identity and his parents’ background. His parents were teachers in the Russian Empire.

Being under pressure of reprisal, discrimination, and death row, he had a solid reason to change his name to survive and adapt to the new system. Thus, I am thankful to my grandfather, Leonid Honcharov, for his strength to change the name to contribute to his future. Moreover, he did it in an environment where carrying your given Jewish name was a life-or-death decision.

For this reason, I support my grandfather in his decision to change his name to be accepted to the military field and succeed professionally. Many of us would agree that older generations have sacrificed their values, endured pain and hardship, and kept working to contribute to future generations.

A new name, a new life

Moving forward to the 21st century, changing names now might be a life-saving decision for some to ease the heavy burden of memories and past trauma. People may associate our name with an abusive childhood, unsuccessful marriage, or simply negative life experiences. Thus, as victims of mental abuse grow up and begin realizing the source of this negativity, they might understand the root of all our stark associations might be due to their name. 

In “Why a mental health diagnosis persuaded me to take my husband’s name after vowing I wouldn’t,” Christina Wyman reveals her personal story of changing her last name for her husband’s. As an independent businesswoman and enthusiastic feminist, she was afraid to affront her values as a feminist by adopting her husband’s last name. 

Being indecisive and broken after trying to reconnect with her parents, Wyman finally changed her last name. Eventually, a new name has helped her to ease the pain of emotional abuse. Her decision to change her last name and rethink her definitions of an independent woman gave her a second life full of love, stability, and satisfaction.

Unfortunately, for many, the foreignness of people’s names might harm society’s view of their importance and role in the community. However, a name can also be a vital key to finding a secure place and endless happiness in life. I think that a name is a power that makes people proprietors of their own choices and lives. 

Being called the name we want gives us the diversity of thought and perspective. Thus, names we choose and carry have the inherent power of composing people’s sense of identity and place in society. Be proud of your name and appreciate others!

Veronika is a student from Seattle Central College, an International Student Ambassador, and a member of the Editorial Board of Seattle Collegian. She loves to cook Ukrainian dumplings, travel in the Pacific states, read E.Hemingway, listen to The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. Veronika is pursuing her degree in web development. Her goal is to own her own business and financially contribute to Seattle Colleges Foundations to support low-income international students. While being a member of Seattle Collegian, Veronika is eager to share her own experience of living, visiting, working, and studying in foreign countries.

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