“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other name/Would smell just as sweet.” I would like to think that I was invoking the words of the immortal Shakespeare when I started calling my newborn Chanchito.
He was a glorious, fat baby, and I have always been charmed by the cuteness of newborn pigs. My “pet” name for him garnered a negative response from his grandparents who worried that the name would stay with him. They carried out a campaign against the nickname, a surprising thing, given that in Latino culture, the terms of endearment used for children are often words such as this: gordo, flaco, negro.
It’s difficult to measure the effects that these names may have on an individual, especially in a bicultural context. It’s possible that for someone living in Latin America such a name may not have as much influence on a person’s self image. In the culture, names such as these may be commonplace and the society may not be as subject to the hyper-critical self image problems that are forged by a youth and thinness obsessed media like the one we have in the U.S. But, what of a child who is growing up in a Latino home within the broader U.S. society? The child will grow up, subject to the pressures of this socio-cultural context. There’s no way to escape the nuanced internalization of at least some of these pressures, despite being aware of them.
For example, I was surprised, when examining the Chancho question, to note my visceral response to hearing one of my children playfully called Negrita by an acquaintance. There is nothing inherently “wrong” in the term, and married to an African-American man, I wouldn’t have imagined myself to be subject to my own acquired racism. Yet, my negative reaction was undeniable. Fodder for thought for a thoughtful mind. But, what of the reactions to such names by non-thoughtful minds? And what of the bicultural child’s own self image when “saddled” with a label that may be at odds with what society deems appropriate, positive?
Language is a shared experience. It’s inherently intertwined with social customs and the cultural landscape. It shapes our world view and perspective of our place within society. Therefore, it’s important for parents to consider these factors when labeling their children. This conflict of perception, of what’s acceptable and empowering versus what may become a ticking self-image time bomb, may be especially acute in the immigrant U.S. household. Adults whose minds have been molded within one particular social context may not always consider the effects of these appellations on their children who must learn to navigate between the microcosm of their home and perhaps a Latino neighborhood and the broader U.S.
culture. Given the pressures faced by our children, supplying them with the tools and words to feel empowered, confident in their world, should be a thoughtfully executed priority.