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Name Yourself Day (April 9th) (T) & Pet Day (April 11th): Names, Names, Names

In another post, I wrote that I gasped at the idea that my mother wanted to name me Hana for Flower, in Japanese. Instead, she named me, Haru, which means, Sunny Blue Skies. She didn’t register me with the more conventional character for Haru, which is, Spring, like the novelist Murakami Haruki’s parents did. And she didn’t add another character at the end of my name like ko – also a typically done thing in Japan. Instead, she named me Sunny Blue Skies, and I lived my whole life as Haru without further thought.

Like many of my peers, I thought that my name was an unquestionable and unchangeable mark of identity given to me by parents. But in recent years in the US, a popular trend among liberal parents has been to allow children to formally rename themselves just as they do in social media. In a 2019 New York Times article, Psychologist John Duffy reports a spike in the number of children with ‘place holder names,’ names parents give their children just until they think up their own names.

It comes as no surprise that the issue of children renaming themselves has raised a few eyebrows, becoming nearly as contentious as parents trying to give their children unusual if inappropriate names. Here are some examples of banned names by country, ranging from the profane to the curious, Akuma (Devil), Hitler and Nutella – really?

In contrast to the gravity of naming children, we frequently indulge in giving our pets cute, unconventional and sometimes completely off-center names, after which call them names that may not be the name we gave them after all. We call them by any number of nicknames or diminutives: Who’s a good doggie? Or use onomatopoeia – which in Greek actually means, making names – Nyanya kawaii ne (Japanese for: Isn’t that a cute nyanya kittie?)

Food for thought and some dinner table convo this weekend:

1) Should children be allowed to name themselves?

2) What would you have liked to have been called?

3) What would you name yourself if you were a pet?

And finally, some bedtime reading for identity junkies: All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu, 2014 Winner of the Guardian First Book Award. London: Sceptre, “a story about finding out who you are, about how much of you is formed by your family and by your homeland, and what happens when those things go up in smoke…”

Enjoy your weekend of names! Happy Name Yourself Day and Pet Day!

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