The Issues of Naming

Non-Western names, often transcribed from non-Roman writing systems, present basic problems in pronouncibility and memorability. Some internationals believe that North    American professors simply avoid interacting with them because of discomfort with knowing what to call them. Some internationals are resigned to that fact, others are incensed. (Rubin, 1993, p. 188)

You might have already noticed that your American professors or peers may not know how to pronounce your name. You might also find that many students adopted new first names “to make matters easier for North American professors and to avoid hearing one’s legitimate name butchered by inexpert speakers” (Rubin, 1993, p. 189). You would also find that some international students “practice gambits for presenting their names to professors and for gently tutoring them in acceptable pronunciation and naming practices” (Rubin, 1993, p. 189). The issues of naming are also issues of personal and professional identity representation for international students. For graduate students, the issues might become more worthwhile to discuss because what you choose to be addressed (either stick to your original name or adopt a Western first name) might influence how your colleagues and professors remember you for the rest of your professional career. In American English, it is not uncommon for a nickname to appear between the personal and family name in formal documentation, usually in quotation marks or parentheses, e.g. Percival “Percy” Detone, so there is a precedent for how people change their name according to their context.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What’s your opinion on the issues of naming? Do you think it affects your personal and professional identities?
  2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the two choices, adopting a Western first name or sticking to your original name?
  3. Which choice did you make? Why?

All of these factors contribute to classroom interactions uniquely for each student and in turn for each classroom. “Class discussion” is a common approach to education, but what that means for each class and each student can vary. Additionally, some discussions, such as those which require taking and arguing a stance or which require critiquing the work of a published author or fellow classmate can become a “high-stakes interaction”, that is, an interaction in which there is a danger of embarrassing oneself or others if the interaction is not handled gracefully and strategically. That said, much of academic work is sharing, arguing, and critiquing ideas, so learning to participate in these high-stakes interactions effectively is a valuable skill for any graduate student. One example is the process of peer review, discussed in the assignment below.

In any case, do not forget: “A critique is not a complaint” (Shore, p. 54). You and your classmates, in all your courses, are working together to help each other create better scholarship, even when there is disagreement about the best way to do so.


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