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Essay on A Name for Culture and Assimilation

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There are myriad reasons why a name becomes a crucial identity for many people. They believe that a name can give power, authority, allegiances, and other special values. In many African countries such as Ghana and Nigeria or Asian countries such as Myanmar, the naming ceremony for a newborn baby is very special for the baby and the family. The entire society may become involved in celebrating it. People believe a name will bring the prestigious culture values to the baby that will allow him or her to fit well in the society. A name can serve a variety of purposes. Names allow many people to connect with their important cultural heritages, and facilitate assimilation in the society; yet, for some people, social or political pressures can complicate naming.

One can exploit a name to assimilate to a new culture. For instance, many freed Black slaves chose English names as a tool to identify as Americans. Itabari Njeri argues in “What’s in a Name?” that “blacks [who achieved freedom] chose common English names such as Jones, Scott, and Johnson … they wanted names that would allow them to assimilate as easily as possible” (50). Through their new adopted English names, Black people showed the society that English is their language and America is their home. The American society could no longer differentiate blacks just from their names. These blacks chose to assimilate rather than keep a connection to their cultural history.

To reclaim her history, Njeri changed her name from Jill Lord to Itabari Nijeri, a name that is connected to her African heritage. She suggests, “We [blacks who adopted English surnames] are the legal as well as ‘illegitimate’ heirs to the names Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, et al., and in my own family,...


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...ures may probably distinguish my cultural background from my name.

In conclusion, a name can portray one’s ties to a certain culture heritage as well as assist in better assimilation in the new culture and society. Both Njeri and Crasta believe that a name sends messages to the society about what kind of cultural values a person possesses. Certain political conundrums and social influences cause many people to be bewildered about whether to choose culture or assimilation. However, one has to choose a name that will balance both so that the society can understand his or her bond to the culture as well as the attempt to fit well in the society.



Works Cited

Crasta, Richard. “What’s In a Name?” The Politics of Language. Northampton: Davis, 2011. 53-54. Print.
Njeri, Itabari. “What’s In a Name?” The Politics of Language. Northampton: Davis, 2011. 50-52. Print.


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