Cultural appropriation?

I had a conversation a while ago with a woman I know who was due soon with a little girl and still trying to figure out a name. In the course of the conversation I suggested Pilar as a middle name idea — it flowed really well with the first name ideas on the list she and her husband had compiled, and though neither she nor her husband are Hispanic, they are into more unusual Catholic names, and of course Pilar’s Marian, and you know me, always trying to get those Marian names in there. So I was really surprised when she said she’d run Pilar by her husband and he’d said no because he’s “not into cultural appropriation.”

I was so taken aback! I honest-to-goodness never considered that any of the names associated with our faith would be a problem for Catholics, whether they be the names of saints from other countries (or our own) (I’m looking at you, St. Kateri) or titles of Mary in another language — I’ve always just figured that it all belongs to all of us. Like, such names *are* our culture — Catholic culture, which embraces and celebrates — and transcends — human culture. Even after thinking about it for the months since I had that conversation, I’m still of the opinion that it’s all okay.

I totally get that the woman’s husband was just expressing his personal preference to not use names of a culture that’s not his nor his wife’s — which is totally fine and understandable! And it probably has just as much to do with the fact that he probably just doesn’t like Pilar anyway — it was just the use of the term “cultural appropriation” that gave me a start, being politically charged as it is.

I suspect I know what you all think, you non-Native American parents of Kateris and non-Spanish parents of Xaviers 😏,  but I’m still interested in hearing your thoughts on this. Do you think there are any Catholic names that are off limits for Catholics for reasons related to “cultural appropriation”?

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59 thoughts on “Cultural appropriation?

  1. I think in situations where it is possible to see cultural appropriation, we must ask people who do belong to the culture we might be appropriating from. It’s such a slippery slope, and race and identity (especially in Native American and Hispanic communities) are a huge deal and not something to be taken lightly. I would love to hear from a Native American or someone who is Hispanic how they feel about a Catholic family, with no connection to the Native or Hispanic culture using the name. As someone who is English, I wouldn’t mind a non-English person using an English name, but as English, we have not been systematically oppressed for generations.

    And I think it’s important to listen to what they say, especially if they say that they would feel uncomfortable with it (I know you and all the readers would!) Just in the general contexts of the world, I find that people say “that offends me” sometimes and people don’t listen and respond “well it shouldn’t.” Louie C.K has a great quote about stuff like this, which is “When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide you didn’t.”

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    • I agree with you, and this question has been on my mind since I started reading this site, actually! So I’m glad it is a post. I am on the fence (as a white person of Germanic descent) with whether names can be cultural appropriation. I think I err on the side of believing that a culture that has oppressed another culture should not then turn around and steal (in this case names, but also art and music, etc) from the oppressed and claim it as their own. Even if the person doing the naming is not the actual person who did the oppressing.

      But perhaps it is just the recent addition of Kateri to available saints’ names to use that bothers me? Augustine being used for a white child doesn’t seem as problematic.

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      • I’ve been thinking about this all morning and I think that personally I’d choose to translate a particularly cultural name into my own language – I’d name a child Catherine over Kateri, Matthew over Mateo, and John over Giovanni for example. I would choose to educate my child about the saint that they were named for, but also give them a name that’s situationally appropriate where we live.

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  2. I grew up in an area with a high Native American population, and I even have a bit of native blood in my ancestry, but our family was not a part of the culture whatsoever. I would never use a name like Kateri, precisely because it would be considered appropriation and offensive to my American-Indian friends (and because it would feel phony on some level to me). In fact I don’t claim my native ancestry because I was not raised with the culture. Even that would be inappropriate appropriation according to Native American customs. Some of my native friends have named their children names from their American Indian languages with deep meanings as a way of connecting to their roots, preserving the culture. For a non-American Indian or non-Native American like me to do the same would be….strange, if not offensive, to some. They might think, was it not enough that you took so much from us already, now you are taking our names? Not to mention that some of them don’t appreciate Kateri’s canonization in the first place, since she rejected the native religion in favor of Christianity (the idea of cultural colonization seems glorified to them – the white man/western civilization conquering yet again and obliterating their religion). It’s a heated issue in some circles, just like when St. Junipero Sera was canonized there was vandalizing in California as a reaction. I suppose the use of Hispanic, French, Italian (European?) names does not seem nearly as politically or emotionally charged as using Native American names. But, as a Catholic, I also understand the “catholicity” of it all. If we can name our children things like Rainbow and Wednesday, why not the name of a saint we admire, even if they are of a different heritage than our own?

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    • I have really strong feelings about this. I had a friend in college who had never been raised with any connection to a very distant Native American culture, who was 99% Irish, had a close connection to her Irish heritage, etc., but her entire family were registered with a Native American tribe and took full advantage of scholarships and other financial benefits intended for native children and families. It was really astonishing to me and really did seem like appropriation.

      On the other hand, with regard to the name Kateri, my understanding is that this was not St. Kateri’s Native American given name, but was an approximation of the name Catherine, which she took after her conversion. Her given name was simply Tekakwitha. In that way, I’m not 100% sure how concerned to be over the name Kateri, because it may not have a true Native American origin to begin with.

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  3. I was the one who did the online search for sisters/brothers of Kateri. One of the Catholic families is white, with a non-Spanish last name, and has a little girl named Guadalupe as well as one named Kateri. If I met that family, I might find the name of that little girl a little bit unusual. If I saw the name Guadalupe in any other context, I’d expect to meet a Mexican girl or woman (or man, since I think it is also a masculine name.) I would put Pilar, Consuelo, Asuncion, etc., in the same category. Are those names cultural appropriation or just setting the child up for a lot of questions whenever she introduces herself? It might be easier to Anglicize the name, if it’s possible (Connie, etc.)

    The only Kateris I know personally are Native American. Because she’s a Native American saint, it has been a fairly popular name with Native American Catholic families. But, judging by that online search, I would say it’s also in use by non-Indian families and is not so culturally specific..

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  4. I’ve honestly never thought of it this way. When I hear of someone naming their baby a name from another culture, I just assume they love the name and it is significant for them. I asked my husband (who is Hispanic) about this and he said it wouldn’t bother him. He would just assume they were Catholic, or perhaps had Spanish/Mexican ancestry. He said “we got our [Spanish] names from Spain anyway, if we didn’t appropriate their names, we would all be named after our Maya ancestors.”

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  5. Also, I realize that Mexicans/Central and South Americans using Spanish names is so not the same thing as cultural appropriation. Should have just said that we “use” instead of “appropriate.”

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  6. This is a really interesting question. I have a few thoughts about it and I’m basically just thinking out loud, I’m not, like, extra-attached to these opinions or anything. First of all, I have a hard time with saying that naming a child after a saint of the Universal Church can ever be cultural appropriation. I feel like that’s like saying a particular culture has the “rights” to that saint, which doesn’t seem right. However, I think that non-saint, faith-based “word” names are much more of a gray area–most cultures, for example, don’t have a tradition of naming their children “Annunciation” “Conception” “Pillar” “Consolation” or things of that nature. And would it be right to name your blonde cherub “Esperanza” rather than “Hope”? I don’t know, that’s why I say it’s a gray area!

    I think there’s a temptation to say that this issue has come up in recent years because we’ve grown too sensitive. But I think that’s an oversimplification at best and an untruth at worst. Fifty or a hundred years ago, this wouldn’t even be a question–people from a particular culture wouldn’t name their children something from another naming tradition unless they were specifically trying to assimilate (I’m thinking, for example, of immigrants coming through Ellis Island and subsequent generations.) An upper-class New Yorker, for instance, would probably not even think of naming their daughter something Irish, Italian, or Slavic! But the trend now is to be ever-more creative, which means seeing what other cultures have to offer the “name bank,” and that brings up questions on a larger scale than we’ve ever needed to address before.

    I’ve heard people say things like, “well, it’s okay for someone without an Irish background to name their kids Irish names.” But do they REALLY mean names like Aoife and Siobhan? Those sorts of names are AWFULLY culturally specific and would seem as strange on a Chinese child as Chen or Mei on a little Irish redhead. Or am I just talking out my you-know-were here? Hard to say, it’s such a gray area!

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    • I agree with you. I think it’s a really personal thing and it would be hard to just say “yes it’s ok” or “no it’s not.” It’s a complicated subject with a lot of history and a lot of opinion. I don’t think there is necessarily one right answer.

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    • I agree and I actually do think it’s a bit “off” (maybe not wrong, but just…”off”) for people without Irish heritage to use names like Caoimhe or Aoife. I also agree about the fact that it’s not common in non-Spanish speaking cultures to use names like Conception, Annunciation, Pillar, etc., so it’s definitely a gray area, more than using the actual name of a saint of the universal church.

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  7. I’m a bit hesitant to buy into cultural appropriation when broadly applied in America, considering the history of the country which prides itself as being a melting pot of various peoples, cultures, religions, and backgrounds. I especially struggle with applying the concept to the names of saints since the Church is universal and when a person is canonized, they are canonized for the universal Church. I understand that there are situations where sensitivity to cultures is necessary, but I’m not quite sure that, at this point in my life, I’ve heard a convincing argument for the extreme concept of cultural appropriation that seems to be growing in our culture. Obviously, each couple has the right to their own level of comfort when using names from another culture.

    I also might be bias because my name is Karmen, and I’m a white American :). I work on a daily basis with youth and adults from Mexico, and I have never perceived that my name offended them in any way.

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  8. Wow what an interesting topic. I agree with above that it’s just tricky. I, personally, wouldn’t use Kateri because I like about 30 minutes away from an Indian Reservation and I happen to know several ladies from there who really have a strong devotion to her. They describe her as “our” Saint – not meaning theirs alone, but that she alone represents them (not really alone, but you know what I mean?) I think things are a bit different with the Spanish culture because their are simply so many (for instance) Mexican saints. I don’t know, mostly I’m just thinking out loud. It is an interesting topic, for sure. As for our personal family, we do have a devotion to Our Lady of Guadulupe but I think we’d be more likely to use Mary Rose or something anglicized to honor Her. I also am trying to imagine being a white Kateri and feeling maybe a bit awkward in certain situations, but that’s of course just our human tendency and not something eternal or even vaguely important. And all this makes it seem like I am against a white person using Kateri, and I’m not at all! Just explaining my own thought process on it. I do know a few Lily Katherine’s who are named for Kateri. Also, and maybe this is not really interesting but it is to me, I know a little boy who has a Baptist preacher father who is named John Paul. Crazy, right?! I know that’s not cultural appropriation but it is just surprising and the closest example I can think of. I believe he’s named for St John and St Paul. 🙂 I imagine that the vast majority of people they meet assume they are Catholic.

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  9. Parents should be able to name their child a name that they love, even if it is from another culture. Might someone be offended? Sure. But just because someone is offended doesn’t mean it is offensive and wrong. There is a push for uniqueness in names and I think we will be seeing more and more cross-cultural naming in the future. Names are an aspect of identity, but no culture owns a name any more than they might own a hairstyle.

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    • I’m not sure I totally agree with you. For example, I have heard many African American people say that it makes them uncomfortable to see white people doing cornrow braids. And there has been a great deal of controversy about white rappers like Iggy Azalea (and even Eminem, though to a lesser extent) about cultural appropriation. There is such a thing as taking something without understanding its cultural and social context and nuances, and that can be offensive.

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  10. I think it might be one of those things that isn’t wrong morally but might be….situationally inappropriate, if that makes sense? Like…okay, bear with me. But it’s like the time I went out to a bar with a lot of ladies for a mom’s night out and there was this one lady there who would not stop talking about Jesus while the rest of us were all just trying to reach the point of ad hilarium. Morally wrong? Obviously not. Situationally appropriate at that exact moment in time? Well…

    I think this will be a completely different sort of conversation given another 25 years, honestly.

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    • Yes I love this! The woman talking about Jesus, while lovely in theory, made you uncomfortable given the situation and what was going on at the time. Situationally inappropriate makes so much sense with some of these names. Like with the current oppression of American Indians, it might be situationally inappropriate at this time to use a Native name if you are not Native, especially depending on where you live. But it might not be situationally inappropriate to use an Italian name if you are not Italian.

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  11. I agree that in this case it is not cultural appropriation because it is part of our Catholic culture. Culture is not exclusive to race/ethnicity. Culture can be religious, and therefore if done in honor of the saint it is staying in our own culture.

    What I find to be most interesting in this case of objecting to Kateri is that the saint’s name is itself a cultural “appropriation.” St. Kateri’s birth name was Tekakwitha, and when she was baptized at 19 she took on the name Kateri, which is the Mohawk version of Catherine (after St. Catherine of Siena). She wasn’t appropriating Italian culture, because she was now a part of a broader, universal culture: Catholicism.

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    • I think, though, that her taking an Italian name could not be called appropriation because Mohawk people never oppressed Italian people on a culture-wide basis.

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    • But even then, Kateri didn’t name herself Catherine- because that would be out of place and not situationally appropriate for her in her community. She chose a version of the name that would be pronouncable for her friends and family, and that would make sense for her place in history. I think Catholicism as a culture is wide and varied, and I’d rather find a way to honor the saints I love in a way that fits my smaller community/culture here.

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  12. I agree with everything Grace said. I think the best route is to talk to people from those cultures and see what they have to say. Based on what some of my friends (Native Americans and other people of color) have to say about using other aspects of their culture – dance, clothes, hairstyles, etc – I think it’s a good idea to consider that using a name from a culture that isn’t yours might be appropriation. I DO think the Catholic element changes things a bit since the saints are universal. But it’s definitely something to consider, and I CAN see people being offended – if we’re running with the example of Kateri, it wouldn’t surprise me if one of my Native American friends was a little upset if they met a white couple who named their daughter Kateri. I think it comes down to whether or not we’re talking about an oppressed group of people (which is why Xavier feels perfectly fine to use on a non-Spanish baby, or Dominic on a baby not of Latin descent – and assimilation is a factor). Again using the Native American example – they’ve had their culture and ways decimated. They were forced to assimilate, and they were brutalized. And even today we’re not doing them any favors with our treatment of reservations and with respecting their customs, etc. So I understand why Native Americans are often upset when we “take” the aspects of their culture that we deem fresh and cool while simultaneously ignoring their cultural plights (and sometimes contributing, consciously or not, to their struggle). It’s also a problem in the secular sphere – how many babies are given animal or nature names? I can’t help but notice that those kind of names are rare throughout history, but somewhat common now in America, where there was a plethora of nature names given in Native tribes.

    So it’s tricky. I *think* the fact that Kateri (or Pilar, etc. etc) are meant to honor saints changes things a bit. We’re all one Church and one family. The names are meant to honor saints, and obviously parents who name their babies after saints aren’t trying to “steal” anything. But those names have routes (and I’m especially thinking of Kateri) and I believe it’s important to at least consider these kind of ideas when thinking of naming a baby.

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    • Yes. This. I agree with everything you’ve said here. It actually is offensive to “take” aspects of a culture that you deem cool while ignoring the plight of those people. The fact that there IS controversy over this subject in a broader context (not just names) shows that is truly is a sore spot, and it’s a bit thoughtless to just overlook it. That said, I do contend that saints’ names on the universal Church calendar are a bit more fair game, especially if a parent has a devotion to a certain saint. Still and all, though, respect and sensitivity should be used.

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  13. Interesting question! I’m not sure that asking people from the name’s culture of origin works, either, because sharing culture doesn’t mean sharing the same opinions. For every person offended, another may be flattered.

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  14. I feel that what a family chooses to name a child is personal, and someone viewing that specific name as “stealing” or “appropriating” should reflect a little more charitably on the situation. With respect to most Catholic saints names, naming a child is meant to honor that saint. I chose Kateri for my youngest daughter’s middle name because its a beautiful name and, just as Kateri was scarred and an outsider among the Indians when she was young, my daughter has a condition that marks her as different, and will potentially be viewed as an outsider by many people. I wanted a saint that could pray for my daughter as she grows – who would understand the difficult situations she might be in. I can’t see that Native American saints would have to be viewed as too special to share -that really goes against the universality of the Church.

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    • To continue this thought, if only famlies with Native American connections were allowed to use Kateri, would it mean that was culturally insensitive for the Hispanic families in my area to use Brandon, Dylan, and Nicholas for their sons? Aiden -the most popular name in my area for ages – should I – with an Irish heritage – be angry that families of African and Hispanic or Polish heritages “stole” an Irish name? To claim a name :exclusively’ for one culture or another is truly not Christian and not logically sound.

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  15. I’d never really thought about this question! I lean towards the opinion, I suppose, that its our common Catholic culture that makes it “ok” to use any of these names.

    On a related note, I have considered and noticed that using names from other languages, rather than translating them, is more and more common. In general, a Catholic naming her daughter Clare names her for St. Clare of Assisi and Chiara is for Bl. Chiara, though the names are the same in Italian. So it seems to be more and more common that we are naming for the same saints but not “American-izing” their names. (For myself, I’ve actually considered going in the other direction–I like the name Jane, so I wonder if I have more daughters, might I use the name Jane but her patroness would be St. Gianna?) (I’m rambling here… but I think this also makes the choice of Kateri interesting too, as its a form of Katherine… so what about just naming your daughter Katherine and Kateri would be her patroness?)

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    • Yes, I could see Jane having Gianna as a patron and Katherine having Kateri! I think maybe — and anyone correct me if I’m wrong — that in the “old days” (and I’m not sure when they ended) St. Chiara of Assisi’s name, for example, was translated into the language of each country — so in England she was St. Clare, in France she was St. Claire, etc., and that’s how we knew her. Similarly, St. Catherine of Siena was actually Caterina, but I’ve never really seen that in English-speaking forums. But these days, we’re more likely to know someone’s name *as it is*, not translated — does that make sense? Like, no one says Pope Francis’ pre-papal name was George Maria, we say Jorge Mario. And St. Gianna is Gianna, not Jane/Jean/Joan. But there’s no reason that you can’t go backwards and say a little Jane has St. Gianna as her patron. It’s a really interesting and offbeat idea! I like it!

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  16. The issue people seem to have is that American Indians were oppressed by European Colonists, and the oppressive history is what makes it appropriation/objectionable. If this is the objection, then would it be objectionable for an Englishman (or even an American of English heritage) to name their child Patrick or Sean? The English undeniably oppressed the Irish people and as recently as the 20th century, but I don’t hear people complaining about the use of Irish names (although they might in Ireland for all I know).

    To bring it back to Catholicism, would it be objectionable for a Catholic German to name their son Karol in honor of St. John Paul the Great? After all, he was Polish and Germany definitely oppressed the Polish people.

    I don’t mean to be cheeky. It just seems there is an inconsistency and an arbitrariness based on feelings rather than a rule. Even having American Indians as the guide seems tenuous, as some may think it’s good and some bad. If people’s stance was that no one should name outside of their own culture then at least that would be a uniform rule, but no one seems to be arguing that. But even if you had that rule, I don’t think using Kateri would violate it because you’d be pulling from our common Catholic culture. Catholicism for the win!!

    One of the things I love about Catholicism is that it is universal while allowing uniqueness of culture. You can have Dominicans and Franciscans with their different flavors, but still the same Mass!

    Thanks for such a fascinating topic of conversation, Kate!

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    • With cultural appropriation, it usually has to do with current oppression. Native Americans are still a widely oppressed group in America, whereas the German oppression of Polish people, and the English oppression of Irish are for the most part in the past.

      There is also the factor of the fact that European Colonists completely decimated the Native culture while committing genocide. Many Natives that I know do feel like Catholicism (and other forms of Christianity) were a main part of the decimation of the culture; many times it was either become a Christian or be tortured/killed. So there’s the possibility someone who is Native being even more put off that we were using it in the name of something they see as a force of their past/present oppression. (Obviously, I don’t know if someone would feel this way, it’s just speculation.)

      I do not see anything morally wrong about using a name like Kateri, it’s just something I think we need to be sensitive about that Natives might feel offended by our use of it and personally I feel like the middle name spot is the better place for it if the family does not have a native connections.

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      • I agree that it is important to be sensitive and to be aware that some people may take issue with it, and I can see where they are coming from. I do think it could be argued that the Irish are still largely oppressed by the English if you are an Irish-Catholic living in England in the same kind of ways American Indians are currently oppressed in the US. But would it be objectionable for an Englishman in 1920 (when Irish oppression DID occur) to name his son Sean?

        I think the funny thing about the name Kateri is that it is NOT a Mohawk name. It’s a European name in its Mohawk translation. I could see objecting to a name original to an American tribe, as that could be considered cultural appropriation, but this is not the case. Especially since Kateri is given in honor of a specific person (who, indeed, was oppressed by her own family and people/culture due to her fatih). It could be argued that it would be cultural appropriation for an American Indian who is an atheist or pagan to name THEIR daughter Kateri. I guess I just don’t see Kateri as a cultural name but as a religious name. Especially since my home parish growing up was named Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Parish and was located on a reservation.

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      • I agree with you about the name Kateri, as it is not actually a Mohawk name, testhair.

        That said, in 1920, no English person would have *wanted* to name their child Sean because, yuck, Irish! in fact, when John Lennon and Yoko Ono named their son Sean in 1975, John Lennon’s English mother reportedly got almost as angry about the Irish name as she did about the other unfortunate circumstances of the child’s birth (adultery, etc.)!

        That is where we are in a stickier situation today. Racism is more obscured even though it is still widespread. Native Americans are still widely oppressed, and one only need watch the news or check Facebook occasionally to know that race relations between black and white Americans are not in a good place right now. When African Americans (or native Americans) talk about cultural appropriation, shouldn’t we listen? Does anyone really want to be the jerk who blew off someone else’s pain?

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      • Such an interesting continued discussion. I think another element that might be muddying the waters here is that culture and race aren’t quite the same thing. You can have people of the same race from different cultures (not just white, but all races really can apply here). My husband’s family’s background is Colombian, as I’ve shared. He has freckles and fair skin (and it’s not uncommon for someone from Colombia to be very fair… it’s also not uncommon to have the more olive complexion). We have even more of this phenomenon in America, I believe, do to our large population and melting pot history. Naming my child a very Hispanic name with our English last name and freckles might offend someone who doesn’t know us, but during the week we are singing traditional Spanish lullabies and eating Colombian recipes with the kids’ grandmother. And of course, it’s impractical to defend this decision to everyone we meet. should we shy away from naming from this side of the kids’ heritage? Should I only stick to Polish and English names just because of race? Should I name a daughter “Caroline” instead of “Carolina”? – I don’t think anyone here would argue that, but I am just saying. (As a side note, I never know whether to label the kids Caucasian or Hispanic on forms!).

        So I think in the US, even though we do need to be sensitive to cultural appropriation to some degree, we also can’t assume that a person’s physical appearance really will consistently tell the story of their background or genetic makeup, and this is becoming MORE true with every generation due to very positive social changes like a widespread acceptance of interracial and inter-cultural marriages. Throw religion in the mix, and well, almost all bets are off in terms of why a person might feel a strong connection to a name. I think it’s also one reason people are branching out more in their name interests… our world has become more global and less clannish… we feel (sometimes legitimately, maybe sometimes not) more interested in and connected to more diverse groups. There are some situations, though, that do get tricky or are a little more clear cut, “hmmm, that’s awkward, you should have maybe done your research…” and with the growing trend of naming based on sound over meaning, cultural appropriation can definitely still happen, I think, and is worth considering when finalizing a name.

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      • Sarah, I think I did muddy the waters some by drawing race into this, because I’m thinking specifically a lot about cultural appropriation of African American culture, and there’s a racial element to that situation. That said, I live in the very heterogenous southwestern US and my community is split fairly equally between Mexican-American and white people (probably not as much racial diversity as some areas, with a very small African American and Asian American population). Though I can’t speak for the Latino population, my sense is that things aren’t as tense here as in other parts of the country. Interestingly, my brother-in-law is Mexican American and he prefers names that do not belie any distinct cultural association. So my nieces and nephews are in the the opposite situation. They have a clearly Spanish surname but very Anglo first names.

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      • I think your post sparked my thought process because I DO live in an area where race tensions are still quite capable of being quite high (former capitol of the Confederacy). And yet I have friends in multi-racial marriages with kids who you cannot tell have one half African-American parent and one Caucasian parent by appearance. And lot of folks are shocked to hear my husband is part-Colombian… and I do find myself truly perplexed at times as to how to fill out forms.. I often find myself asking the purpose of the question, “Do you want to know if his first language is Spanish or if he is bilingual and need to make accommodations? Or do you want to know his race/biology, and if so, is there a certain percentage that is relevant? Or are you screening him for scholarship opportunities and again, what is the criteria?” I don’t want to mislead people, and I also feel funny denying something part of them, too. The way genetics play out is fascinating to me. And it makes me wonder if cultural appropriation in terms of naming, while a worthy topic, is tricky because in order to really know if an offense may have been committed, you have to know a little background (not typical of most social issues that might cause offense). And I wonder as the population continues to intermarry and relate differently if this issue will continue to change or even become a bit impractical to tackle except for in very specific cases.

        I too have encountered the opposite phenomenon where first names are chosen to fit in with the broader culture, not to highlight a race or culture. My dh’s name and his siblings are all English/Irish (with no Irish connection at all that I am aware of). I once dated a man who was ethnically east Indian but at that time wanted nothing to do with naming future children with Indian names should we ever marry. I remember his mother wanting me to wear a traditional dress of hers for a formal event, and he was horrified (not because of cultural appropriation, but because he just never wanted to focus on that). And my Polish grandfather switched his first and middle name (Ignatius Edward to Edward Ignatius) to sound less Polish even though his last name was obviously Polish. This whole issue fascinates me!

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  17. Well, my husband might not be the best representation of a group, but his family is largely Colombian-American. I asked him his thoughts on a very-Spanish sounding name like Jose on a person with no Hispanic background, and he shrugged. “I would have to think for a minute about how unusual it is, but no, it wouldn’t be a big deal at all.” So since the blog post is specifically about a Spanish name, that’s his thoughts on Pilar.

    One issue we have is that our last name doesn’t reflect the dominant cultural backgrounds we share (Polish and Colombian). It has made it harder to use names that tie so closely to those cultures just because it *would* likely have an odd flow with our common, English-sounding last name. But it’s not so much offense there as just preference. And not all our names have been nixed for sure.

    Call me naive, but usually in American culture, names are about bestowing honor/complimenting and 99% of the time, pulling from another culture would seem like an attempt to show respect or to compliment, not to “steal.” The exceptions I’ve run across are actually religious… Like the controversy over the Jewish name Cohen I’ve run access in so many forums. It seems like a culturally insensitive thing to grab that name just because it sounds neat as it apparently has a lot of meaning tied to it and (from what I’ve read) is usually reserved for only certain members within a certain lineage. So maybe cultural appropriation depends heavily on the culture and how THEY perceive naming and certain names, and isn’t universal. It sounds like Native Americans view naming a little differently than other cultures?
    So it’s probably wise to do research on the cultural origins of a name.

    I also appreciate the point that one person can’t speak for the entire culture. For what it’s worth, we have a friend of the family who is Native American and heavily involved in advocacy and educating people on their history and oppression. He once remarked on my maiden name that many Cherokee had/have that last name (an English last name), and how I probably have Cherokee in me. I told him he was correct, I do have an ancestor who was Cherokee. He seemed pleased that we had this connection and didn’t seem worried at all about drawing lines between those who were raised in the culture and those more distantly connected. He always seems to be looking for connections like that and seems to see it as a way to feel more connected.

    Liked by 3 people

  18. As an aside, I just want to say how much I’ve appreciated how civilized and interesting this discussion has been. I’m sure I don’t have to tell anyone how rare it is to find that in the internet, let alone in a combox.

    Liked by 3 people

  19. The more I chew on this,the more I do feel religion, especially our universal Catholic faith, does change the cultural appropriation discussion a bit. Have you all ever heard the interview or read the story of the miracle that allowed St. Kateri to be canonized? He was a boy from Washington State. Not sure of his complete background, but sounded like just your regular All-American kid from a nice, Catholic family. A person can feel a legitimately strong personal connection to a Saint no matter their background… and the tendency now is to use an honor name that is close or identical to what the person you are honoring went by… I wouldn’t name my daughter “Helen” after my wonderful Oma, “Helene.” She didn’t go by Helen at all; she went by Helene or “Lenie” (LAY-nee). My patron Saint is St. Therese… there isn’t an ounce of known French in me or my background, but I feel she “picked me” and feel close to her.. but if I wanted to name a child after her (I do), I would not choose Teresa (which was more commonly used by other Saints, but not the Little Flower), I would specify with “Therese.” We have a unique relationship with the Saints that make them family. St. Therese spoke of Saints she barely showed interest in studying loving her more intensely than her own close-knit biological family in a vision she had. So I do feel that while it’s good to be sensitive, we need to really look at our own Catholic culture and what our faith really teaches us, too… and I’ve always said I consider myself Catholic before I even consider myself American, which I feel many practicing Catholics can relate to (and is a legitimate way to look at our faith). If I met a little girl named Kateri, I would assume she was either: Native American, Catholic, or both… and I feel like those are all valid connections to be made. Meeting a “Katherine” or “Catherine” would not have the same effect, and honestly there are other Saints known as Catherine, so the honor aspect would not be as clear…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel that’s very true when speaking of a specific saint’s name, though I also agree with Marg above that there’s a good argument to be made for using a name that is familiar, pronounceable, etc. I also feel like Kateri may not be the best example of cultural appropriation simply because the name Kateri itself doesn’t have Native American roots, but was an approximation of the name Catherine. I also agree with ethelfritha above that when we aren’t part of a broader culture where using names that mean Annunciation, Consolation, Pillar, etc., we may have good intentions coming from our faith but may be missing some of the cultural naming nuance. That’s the situation where I think the gray area exists—when it’s a name that clearly exists in a specific culture and is not a saint’s actual name. And, as I said above, in agreement with ethelfritha, I do think it’s a bit “off” when people without Irish heritage use names like Caoimhe, for example. Clearly people can do whatever they want, but I also think sensitivity is wise.

      In a related thought, I think this issue only exists in the US. My observation is that in other parts of the world, it is generally typical to change the spelling of people’s names (including living people, like musicians) to reflect their own language. For example, when I was a music student, my cello professor who was the cellist of an internationally-known string quartet, had some tour posters in her office. I remember one that was from an Eastern European country (Poland? Czech Republic?) where her name, which is the elegant Judith Glyde, was printed as Judite Laida (along with changes to the other quartet members’ names). No attempt was made to just print their names as they actually were. I thought it was so weird, thinking about some of the well-known classical musicians from other parts of the world whose names we maintain here. (Would anyone call Itzhak Perlman “Isaac Pearlman”? Or *GASP* Yo-Yo Ma, “Friendly-friendly Horse”?!?!?!) This absolutely wouldn’t happen in the US but apparently does happen in other parts of the world.

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  20. This has been a consideration for us but more because the saint names we like that are associated with other languages or cultures just don’t have a connection to either of our family trees and, honestly, because it would make me crazy (if not my other kids, husband) that people would constantly mispronounce the names. French names are a prime example (I love almost any French version of any name better)…we did let Lily choose Tiber’s middle names and we didn’t get his correct birth certificate until JUNE. First it wasn’t uploaded at all, a fact we discovered when we did our taxes and then in trying to file it we had a heck of a time getting EDOUARD (no accent marks, even) instead of EDWARD, EDUARDO (same letters, different order), and so on.

    That being said, I don’t think harshly about any other family using these names because I don’t know their story or why they chose it until I know them well enough to ask and then there could be a very divine reason for it!

    Liked by 2 people

  21. This discussion reminded me of the naming of John the Baptist…Zechariah obviously wasn’t sold on the name John…reflecting on this story gives a bit of perspective of the working of the Holy Spirit in the naming of a precious child.
    Great discussion!

    Liked by 1 person

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