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English Names for Non-English People

Welcome to the Chronicles of a Good Immigrant. A 4-part blog series (with 2 pieces of exclusive content for subscribers). Topics will include culture, assimilation, microaggressions, colourism, reviews and much more. First up: Names and why they're important to get right. I am a Kenyan born girl who immigrated to and grew up in the United Kingdom, specifically, Scotland. I was given an English first name before the thought of moving to the UK even occurred. My brother, my mum, my dad, their brothers and sisters and even their parents also have English first names. It's something that I was aware of but never paid much mind to. I grew up predominantly being called my middle name Mukuhi (pronounced: Mo-ku-hay) but hated it so much that my mum slowly transitioned into calling me Diana most of the time. I only hated it when I moved to Scotland because it wasn't the norm and people would constantly ask what this weird name was that I seemed to be addressed by only my mother and brother. It wasn't until the absurd situation that transpired between Yewande Biala and Lucie Donlan (2019 Love Islanders) that I started to dissect how I was named and my feelings towards my middle name. For the majority of people in the world, names are extremely important. They are our first forms of identity and their meanings hold a lot of history in our lives. A lot of cultures around the world have grand, symbolic naming ceremonies for new-borns which can bestow significant prophecies on how they'll lead their lives. Here's a really cool article describing how different cultures in African countries name their children. As I hope you're beginning to understand, it's more than just being given a name. My middle and last names come from my father's side of the family which to me only hold importance from a heritage point of view. However, being Kenyan and Kikuyu (pronouced: kee-koo-you) holds limitless value for me and the two names are pretty unique even in the tribe. My first name however, came from Princess Diana who passed away a month before I was born. I'm glad that despite not holding as much value in terms of heritage, it came from someone who I also admire. As I was listening to The Receipts Podcast's episode: Say My Name, two of the co-hosts Audrey who is Ghanaian and Milena who is Colombian (first name Hazel) talked about how they were named English names even through they are not necessarily English. It was then that I realised that this was a common theme. Their parents reasoning to their names were to do with how much easier life would be for them living in Britain with an English name. My tribe's reasoning to have an English first name almost certainly stems from colonialism. Like many things that pre-colonised states adopted from their colonisers, such as Christianity, 'respectable names' was also one of them. Back when Christianity was imposed on Kenyan citizens, being baptised using traditional tribal names was not allowed and thus the need to have English first names. My name has made my life easier growing up in the UK (even though it's often very annoyingly mistaken for Diane) but it somehow makes me feel a bit empty inside that I don't represent my full culture. However, I'm also around 80% certain that had I been named a traditionally Kikuyu name or even used my middle name more often, I would have shortened it or went by a completely different name throughout my life. Either way, people should feel safe and empowered to embrace their name whatever it is. The lack of effort, disregard and disrespect that people (generally white British people) have to pronounce ethnic names properly, is racist, xenophobic and violent. It says that people with names out of the norm don't matter to be addressed properly and that they should not expect the same respect given to humans with 'normal English names'. The disrespect is very apparent when confronted with Gaelic names. In my experience, when people see traditionally Gaelic names, the first port of call is to ask the person how to pronounce their name, instead of asking if it can be shortened or they can be given a nickname. This courtesy should unquestionably be given to every single person. You're not always going to get it right in which you should take accountability, apologise and ensure that you attempt to get it right the second try. I absolutely loved Hasan Minhaj's interview with Ellen where he explained and emphasised why it was important for people to pronounce his name properly. You can watch it here! Learning to love my culture and heritage even more each day makes me want to ensure that my future children love their ethnic names and regard them with prestige instead of discontent. I'll catch you in two weeks for my next blog post in this series and I hope you're looking forward to going through this mini journey of exploration with me. For more content, head over to my Instagram and Facebook page. Oh & make sure to SUBSCRIBE! Until next time, D x

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