On Naming

Manuel Muñoz, whose short story collection The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue was recently short-listed for the Frank O’Connor prize, has a pretty cool op-ed in the New York Times about the politics of naming. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s intriguing to watch “American” names begin to dominate among my nieces and nephews and second cousins, as well as with the children of my hometown friends. I am not surprised to meet 5-year-old Brandon or Kaitlyn. Hardly anyone questions the incongruity of matching these names with last names like Trujillo or Zepeda. The English-only way of life partly explains the quiet erasure of cultural difference that assimilation has attempted to accomplish. A name like Kaitlyn Zepeda doesn’t completely obscure her ethnicity, but the half-step of her name, as a gesture, is almost understandable.

Spanish was and still is viewed with suspicion: always the language of the vilified illegal immigrant, it segregated schoolchildren into English-only and bilingual programs; it defined you, above all else, as part of a lower class. Learning English, though, brought its own complications with identity. It was simultaneously the language of the white population and a path toward the richer, expansive identity of “American.” But it took getting out of the Valley for me to understand that “white” and “American” were two very different things.

You can read the piece in full here.

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