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Thursday, June 30, 2022
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What is a name?

In recent weeks, our news feeds have been inundated with talk of a new Supreme Court justice. With the retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer, President Joe Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as his replacement. Justice Jackson is the first Black woman justice in U.S. history. There have been many notable moments in her confirmation hearing so far. Justice Jackson’s husband was seen shedding tears in a heartwarming moment. Her daughter was caught beaming with pride, in what will likely be an era defining picture

However, something that has really irked me is the constant misspelling of her first name — Ketanji. Justice Jackson’s parents named her Ketanji Onyika, selecting from a list of African names sent by an aunt based in West Africa at the time. Ketanji Onyika means “lovely one.”

I have seen several tweets calling her Kantanji, Kentanji and Kentaji. Some of these tweets are made by major media outlets — a stain on journalism. Others are made with the sole intention of belittling her. After all, Tucker Carlson used Justice Jackson’s name as part of a tirade questioning her credibility. As you might expect, this is nothing new. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo will likely go down as the greatest Buck of all time, when all is said and done. His career so far already has him heading firmly towards Hall of Famer status. I don’t find too many people inspirational, but he is one such person. His surname “Antetokounmpo” is the hellenization of “Adetokunbo,” a Yoruba name which means “the king/crown/royalty from across the seas.” This name holds great weight as it is, but in the case of the Antetokounmpo family, even more so. 

The Antetokounmpos have had to fight adversity all their lives to get to where they are today. The name is a part of their journey. Yet, the surname is often reduced to a punchline. Why is Antetokounmpo so difficult, when, say, Isaiah Hartenstein or Timothée Chalamet is so effortless? The answer is insidious, rooted in racism. The examples are plentiful. 

I have personally witnessed people with “ethnic” names select dull as dishwater nicknames to go by. Such beautiful, meaningful names are reduced to the most blasé words in the dictionary, just to cater to other people’s linguistic inability or lack of respect. While low-grade websites shill “exquisitely exotic” names to “remind you of sun, sea and sand,” people who naturally inherit such names face obstacles. 

A study comparing callbacks for job interviews between applicants with white names and African American names found 50% more callbacks for white names. Another study regarding emails sent to white professors with a white sender name — Alex — versus a Chinese name — Xian — found fewer responses to the Chinese name. 

All of this suggests that diversity statements and anti-discrimination laws count for nought. You’re at a disadvantage for being yourself. You do not belong because your name does not meet white hegemonic standards.

Names are at the heart of our identity. They carry great significance. Family names are passed down for generations. The name given to a child is one of the most important decisions parents make. As children come to life as vessels of love, parents anoint them with grand titles, wishing to manifest destiny. 

My parents decided to name me Anupras. They had intended my name to mean “gem,” but they didn’t quite get it right. Well, it’s complicated. Alankar is a Hindi word that means “gem” or “ornament,” although it is most popularly used in a metaphorical sense to talk about figures of speech. Figures of speech are “language ornaments” in the context of Hindi grammar. Anupras is a kind of Alankar. A figure of speech — alliteration to be precise. 

In a way, my parents did name me “gem” or “ornament,” since Anupras is a type of Alankar, a type of gem. However, colloquially speaking, my name means alliteration. My Hindi teachers loved pointing this out every year. Considering how I have always been drawn to languages and writing, I have lived up to my name. I wouldn’t trade my first name for anything. 

Since I have come to the U.S., I have stood firm with my name. Being a stubborn person in general, I have made people repeat my name multiple times. I prefer that over accepting a meaningless Anglo name. Thankfully, I’ve mostly encountered people who want to get it right. Some people even get it absolutely spot on! I appreciate them to bits. 

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I don’t expect people to nail the pronunciation of my name. After all, growing up in Dubai, I have heard Arabic speakers call me Anubras instead of Anupras. The Arabic alphabet lacks a hard p sound, which means native Arabic speakers substitute p’s with the existing b sound — Baa. It is understandable. Mildly amusing, even. People raised in the States will roll their r’s more than my name needs, or stress syllables wrong. Nonetheless, I appreciate any genuine effort. 

People with ethnic names deserve the same respect and opportunities afforded to those with white names. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson deserves her name to be written right 100% of the time. The Antetokounmpo name should get the reverence it deserves. My name, Anupras, should be said as “uh-noo-praas.” Not “anew-prus” or anything else ridiculous. I expect to see Anupras Mohapatra written accurately at all times. 

I am proud to be Anupras, and I stand firm in my name and my demands. I don’t ask for anything special. Just the bare minimum respect we deserve to see put on our names. 

I yearn for a day when people with ethnic names won’t need to change them and won’t be affected adversely, simply because they choose to be themselves.

Anupras is a junior studying Computer Science and Journalism. He served as an opinion editor in 2020, and currently serves on the Editorial Board. What does your name mean to you? Is it fair to see “ethnic” names treated differently than others? Send all comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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