Cultural Appropriation and Names

Is using names that are not within your own culture considered cultural appropriation? I ask because I noticed A LOT of people frown upon someone who is not Japanese considering using a Japanese name. Why? But when, for example, someone who is not Irish at all wanting to use an Irish name, it is completely acceptable. [name_u]Jasper[/name_u] is a Persian name, wanna use it without being Persian? Why the heck not. I actually noticed that names from just about every other culture BESIDES East Asian or Native American culture seems perfectly acceptable to use. Why?

I have seen so many posts of parents asking “I adore the name Yuriko, but we are not Japanese at all. Is it okay to use it for my daughter?” and pretty much every single reply is “if you are not Japanese or do not live in Japan, I would refrain from using a Japanese name.”

But if it is the same exact scenario with a name from a different culture, ie. Greek, French, Italian, Indian, Hispanic, etc., a lot of the answers are “I do not see why not! Names should bring us together, etc., etc.”

Disclaimer: Just want to make it clear, I am not looking to get some kind of justification to use a name of a particular origin for my child, I just noticed this whilst lurking on these name forums for a while and wanted to ask why and what is going on because quite frankly, it does not make any sense to me.

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This thread is actually a pretty common topic. Check out

Most names of European origin are from countries/cultures that have been/are active colonizers. This is not to say that there are not oppressed people within these countries, but it does mean that somebody with an English name has not faced oppression due to their name being English. It has to do with picking and choosing parts of another culture (like a fashion accessory) without enduring the struggles and hardships of that culture.

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I honestly find it offensive for Hispanic/Asian/Native American names. It’s a bit of a finer line with Western names, because a lot of them share common roots/are part of more than one language.

I agree with much of what @dejectedpiglet said, and urge you to check out the thread she linked for more.

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Also, I’d just like to remind you that [name_f]Asian[/name_f] is a very broad term, and that [name_u]Persia[/name_u] is a part of [name_f]Asia[/name_f]. However, I do agree with you in that I see it said more about [name_u]East[/name_u] [name_f]Asian[/name_f] names and not much about Middle Eastern/most other types of [name_f]Asian[/name_f] names.

What about the Irish names tho? Sorry I’m just confused :joy: the Irish have lots of culture aAnd our language is very important. We were ruled by the British for about 800 years and they banned us from speaking Irish (that’s why we speak [name_f]English[/name_f]) so why is it ok why none dish people use Irish names. I’m not offended myself cos it’s nice seeing Irish names on people around the world

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As a person of Irish descent, this always seems to come up. However, although there is persecution against Irish people, nowadays in places like the US having an Irish name will not get you discriminated against. Having a Chinese or Korean name, however, does have an affect on the way other people perceive you. So yeah, it may not be appropriate to give a non-Irish child an Irish name. But it’s less harmful than taking a name from a non-European culture.

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Middle eastern names, Persian, [name_f]Indian[/name_f], Hispanic names I noticed are being acceptable to use even if someone isn’t of that culture. However, Japanese, Chinese, Native American names are the ones I see with the most discouragement against using it if not of the same culture. All these races have been equally oppressed, so why is one not offensive but the other is? I feel like it should all be unacceptable or all be acceptable.

Also I have read the suggested thread, and most people are encouraging the use of the [name_f]Indian[/name_f] name even though the parents are not [name_f]Indian[/name_f]. So that is why I come back to the question of why is that okay, but for example, Japanese isn’t?

Just want to make it clear, I am not looking to get some kind of justification to use a name of a particular origin for my child, I just noticed this whilst lurking on these name forums for a while and wanted to ask why and what is going on because quite frankly, it does not make any sense to me.

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I get that. It’s a major pet peeve when people encourage appropriation of names from cultures that have been oppressed, especially [name_f]Indian[/name_f]. Especially because my own name is [name_f]Indian[/name_f], and nobody’s ever made an effort for me, but they accept when people appropriate [name_f]Indian[/name_f] names and try to pronounce them.

I think what @dejectedpiglet and I were referred to in the thread were our respective answers, because I do remember a lot of people saying it was okay to use the name.

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Ohhh sorry I get you now thank you :joy:

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I think another thing is the fact that most Westerners think Asians are literally just [name_u]East[/name_u] Asians, which makes them oblivious to the oppression, and the other cultures themselves.

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Yes, having a Chinese or Korean name will have an affect on the way other people will perceive you, but so does having an [name_f]Indian[/name_f] name. So why are [name_f]Indian[/name_f] names being encouraged, but Chinese, Korean, Japanese names are not?

As @nvrsobr said, my position on the thread was that it should not be encouraged. It is still cultural appropriation.

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The thread was an example that this discourse is common on Nameberry and you can find answers on the website.

I understand that it should not be encouraged, but loads of people are encouraging it so I ask why is it common for many people to encourage usage of an [name_f]Indian[/name_f] name but at the same time, the same mass of people do not encourage usage of [name_u]East[/name_u] [name_f]Asian[/name_f] names? What I want to know is what makes one okay but not the other for so many people, regardless of what is actually right or wrong? Is it something to do with what people perceive as exotic? Is one more obvious than the other? [name_m]Just[/name_m] want to know the thought process behind these contradicting conclusions that MOST people come to

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I unfortunately can’t help any more, because I’m [name_f]Indian[/name_f] and can’t stand when my culture is appropriated. However, I can speculate.

East [name_f]Asian[/name_f] culture has often been celebrated in the US (just using this because I’m from here), while other types of Asians are barely recognized. Americans would feel bad about appropriating [name_u]East[/name_u] [name_f]Asian[/name_f] culture, especially because they enjoy and have their eyes opened to some of the racism that they face. However, other types of Asians may come off as simply ‘exotic’ or not even Asians. They may simply feel entitled. I honestly don’t know, but this might be a reason.

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You gotta go to the thread and ask them- but at the same time, I feel like it doesn’t really matter why people think it. People who know it’s problematic and willfully ignore it shouldn’t really get anymore airtime, so as long as you know yourself that it isn’t okay and then convey that to others if they ask, then that’s all you can do. Since I don’t think it’s okay, I don’t really know the reasoning behind it- all I know is that when people go all out to defend a certain name after somebody from that culture has said it’s harmful to them, they’re purposefully being offensive and contradictory. Maybe somebody says why they think it’s ok somewhere on another thread, but if not there are definitely lots of articles about it online!

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Not really trying to get it too much airtime, just really wanted to know the reasoning behind it as so many people have this mindset. I see it so often and it really boggles my mind. Thanks for explaining everything, really appreciate it and was interesting to read what you got to say! [name_m]Will[/name_m] check out some more articles if I can find more that I haven’t already read

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Thanks for explaining your speculation! That honestly makes a lot of sense and could be the reason behind why so many people have this mindset. It is incredibly bizarre and honestly just straight up horrible.

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I don’t think it is cultural appropriation. Almost all of the names used in [name_u]America[/name_u] today are from countries or origins other than the US. Unless it has significance to a culture or religion such as [name_m]Cohen[/name_m], or has a history where it comes from colonization or oppression (such as the name [name_f]India[/name_f]), I see no issue with it. [name_f]My[/name_f] name is [name_f]Brynn[/name_f], and I am not Welsh at all. I feel like this question isn’t asking about names from other cultures, it is asking about names that are not from white dominant countries. I don’t even know my heritage, so for me to be limited to names that originated in the US would be extremely limiting (Nevaeh? I don’t even know). I believe that if you use a name from a different culture you should educate yourself on the name and history, and you should use the correct pronunciation. If you are doing this I don’t see how it is cultural appropriation. I know this is a controversial opinion, but this is how I feel.

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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.

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