Sunday, February 04, 2007

A Bose By Any Other Name

The Boston Globe ran an article on Sunday about immigrants changing their names. This, of course, is not a new practice for new Americans; Europeans did it too, depending on how despised they were by the wider society. These days, we Asians and Middle Easterners are abandoning our family monikers at a faster pace than others:
A Globe review of 1,000 recent name changes filed at the US District Court in Boston found the desire to adopt American names was especially common among Asians, whose given names have pronunciations that can confound Americans. Arab and Muslim immigrants, whose names have brought them closer scrutiny in recent years, were also disproportionately represented.
My family of origin surname was easy for Americans because one famous member of my clan (no relation) made excellent stereo systems. But what if he had changed his name to "Brown" before inventing his machine? If everybody wasp-ifies their names to make it easier for themselves and for others, how will Americans ever learn to pronounce "Nguyen" as handily as most can now pronounce "Spielberg?" What is an "American name," anyway?

Here's another part of the article I found strange:
Vanitha Kumar's former name, Vanitha Vijaykumar, was "a mouthful," she said, creating all manner of e-mail mix-ups at the high-tech company where she worked. She wasn't particularly attached to her old name, she said, since last names are not commonly used in India. So she lopped off the beginning of her surname when she became a citizen.
In Bengal, where I come from, last names have been commonly used for generations. They reveal caste and are never lopped off. C'mon, Globe. You can do better than that.

2 comments:

anonybrown said...

That may be true in the North, but in South India, last names are not that important, except for a few who retain family names, such as iyer, vegesna, etc.
I myself dont have a family name...It's just my father's name.

Mitali Perkins said...

You're right ab, but for the Globe to imply that ALL Indians drop surnames right and left seems like poor journalism to me. Are you coming to my book signing in the Bay Area? If so, make sure you introduce yourself as anonybrown.