What’s in a name?

“Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.” – Juliet

Names and words have longed had a great influence on our societies and culture. Take for example the famous quote from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Two families who’s turmoil seems to have boiled down to a fight of othering, them versus us, Capulet versus Montague. Names are indicative of gender, of race, of class, or origin. We judge as define people by their names, whether comically or harmfully. These characteristics can be applied to people even before they are seen by another. In class we discussed how the racialization names or the gendering of names can lead to harmful situations of discrimination or awkwardness. One student in the class, so tired of the gross mispronunciation of her name has traded her breathy Juan for a Southern white styled Teresa another shared how her “white” sounding name and voice style got an appointment for housing while her boyfriend’s ethnic name provided a “it’s been filled” response from the potential landlord. I myself have exchanged names a few times thanks to marriage and more recently my transgender identity. It’s something that leaves people confused. They see my name, they look at me, and wonder what they are missing. There is power in my name for me though in other places. On the telephone it provides me a reassurance to my identity seen rarely on campus or out and about in the rest of the world.

But the fact remains there is a large tendency to judge people by their name. Lists float around on social media: Top 20 Names Most Likely to Cheat etc, racial and gender profiling still occurs when calls come in for jobs and housing or when applications are read for the same. It is an often overlooked problem in the United States that such microaggressions still occur on a daily basis for millions of people. Ideally by being more aware of how these things occur and how people interpret names and other identifies, we can work as an informed group to change things.

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