EDIT: oh em gee, I wrote an essay, I AM SORRY!
I will not pretend to have any or all answers to this question but I did want to share this, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I shared this before, in all my years on nameberry. I think to me the key is empathy and degrees of separation.
I am [name_m]Dutch[/name_m], born and raised in the Netherlands, and I live there (again). [name_f]My[/name_f] father’s surname, and therefore also my surname, reads as Jewish to some people, in particular in combination with the zip code. Etymologically it’s [name_m]Dutch[/name_m], but it’s a surname that was historically adopted by Portuguese Jews who migrated to the Netherlands. [name_f]My[/name_f] siblings and I were born in the late 20th century, and my parents who were never deliberately super progressive or ‘woke’ still made sure that there would be as little confusion as possible as to whether we were Jewish or not. The theme my parents went for was [name_m]Dutch[/name_m] and medieval-sounding, and they made sure we had the right amount of middle names for people to suspect [name_m]Dutch[/name_m] Catholic (aka spell out the alphabet, why don’t you). They literally axed names like ‘[name_f]Anna[/name_f]’ from the list for me, which although not necessarily very Jewish would be interpreted as Jewish in combination with the surname, and once again, the zip code. Why? They did not want to create confusion, not because they were anti-Semitic, but because they did not feel okay about creating this illusion for Jewish people to feel like they were around other Jews, and thereby create the illusion of shared history and a safe space. The confusion does happen despite my parents’ efforts, but my not being Jewish is not as big a surprise as it could have been.
I make it sound like I’m way older than I actually am, but for my parents it was clear that because they still grew up in a society that had just been through WWII, that you’d tread lightly and empathised with Jewish people around you by avoiding names that bore that association or usage. As WWII becomes increasingly, distant, however, and Jewish people are not as visible as they once were, people do forget that names are not always just that.
I think it’s difficult to apply broad strokes in a world that’s filled with endless nuance, and in certain situation it’s actually difficult to assess the damage and harm we can do by choosing certain names that are specific to a culture. We may overestimate it, we may underestimate it. In Europe we’ve spent centuries borrowing names from one another as well as from the Bible, you can, for instance, find names of Germanic origin in [name_f]Italy[/name_f], while the Bible’s reach as a name directory is up to the Arctic [name_u]Ocean[/name_u]. Yet in many Indo-European languages it’s common to staunchly adapt names to fit with the language spoken, as well as its grammar (ie declension of cases includes given names), while in other countries ‘foreign’ names are chosen but are necessarily pronounced with a local accent. I don’t think that means automatically that you can just look at Europe and go: oh there’s my book of white people names that are safe to use. You may still want to think twice before committing to it, and if you want to be absolutely certain you might still want to know if there’s any specific context to that particular name (or if speakers of the language of origin are particular sticklers on pronunciation muhaha). It’s called cultural appropriation for a reason, you can still be culturally insensitive without the power dynamics of systemic racism coming into play.
I am not saying we should broaden the spectre of names we should think twice about by erring on the side of caution, but names are messy and origins of names can be really messy too. The name [name_u]Jasper[/name_u] has a really long and established history in Europe, regardless of its origins. I honestly really don’t care when [name_u]North[/name_u] Americans feel they don’t have enough of that or that particular European ancestry to be using a particular (European) name, sweet summer child: you’re likely to be considered just [name_u]North[/name_u] American to most in Europe. Is it a nice personal nod? Perhaps. [name_m]Can[/name_m] you light up the room if you say I named my child so, and so because I thought it was a beautiful …-ian/ish/ese name, maybe. Although an internet chat room might get on your case about it.
We are most likely having this very discussion in the context of Western intercultural and interracial relationships, in that context it’s insensitive and unempathetic to choose a name associated with an oppressed people in that country, because as said, the name becomes a label that affects perceptions. You can’t guarantee, however, that the same discussion would play out the same way in other contexts, and you can’t just apply broad strokes. What we can do, however, is always be mindful and willing to think, and willing to ask and if we can’t get the answer we want to clarify what we need to know here, ask elsewhere.