What makes a kiwi name?

I’m struck by some of the unwritten assumptions in an article in the DomPo yesterday about new immigrant families choosing ‘kiwi’ names for their children.  Apparently, to avoid mispronounciation of ethnic names, many new migrants are choosing names outside their culture/ethnicity:

“Who knows what terrible meanings we make by mispronouncing a name. We may be saying a different word altogether,” says Ariadne Fountain, coordinator of Porirua Language Project. “Giving a European name is a way of preventing us mauling their language.” 

My question is, where does this leave Maori names? I don’t fancy telling Tame Iti his name doesn’t belong in Aotearoa. What about Chinese names – Chinese people have been in Aotearoa nearly as long as Europeans? What about Pacific Island names? Tana not kiwi enough for you?

Many people choose to give their children names that belong in their family. I can’t see, for a Somalian family for example, that ‘Sharon’ is going to foot that bill.

And personally, I find it a little disturbing that I, as a Pakeha New Zealander of Scottish and Canadian descent, according to this logic, am obviously too stupid to learn new words. I’m pretty sure, with a little practise, that saying names I’m initially unfamiliar with should be possible. And for me, getting someone’s name right is a mark of respect. I hate it when people mispronounce my name – you’d be surprised how hard it is to say ‘luddite’ for some people.

I know families of Nigerian descent in England do this same thing – give British born children an English name for outside the home, and a Nigerian name for at home. But it’s not seen there as a positive sense of belonging in England – for Nigerians in England it’s a sign of not belonging, not being accepted, not really being British.

I’d like to think New Zealand was big and brave enough to value all our indigenous and immigrant cultures – including being able to give our children names that have meaning for our family. I carry my Scottish grandmother’s name – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

2 thoughts on “What makes a kiwi name?

  1. Kudos on this one Sandra. Names are important- and choosing Tom, Dick or Harry, John and Jane over the more cultural, traditional, family valued ones so someone won’t have a hard time with pronunciation is beyond me!

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