A name is a very significant marker of identity. In “By Any Other Name” Santha Rama Rau, talks about various challenges students experience and have to overcome and get used to them in a new learning environment. She describes the challenge of retaining one’s identity when an individual’s name is changed. Changes in the environment with different cultures also influence one’s cultural identity. This is depicted in the story when two Indian girls, Santha and Premila are taken to an Anglo-Indian school at the age of 5 and 8 years old whereby they experienced cultural challenges in the new school (Rau 1389). At the school, the teacher gives them new Anglo names; Cynthia and Pamela. But Santha feels like the assignment of a new name has given her another identity, making her feel like two different people. Despite having this feeling, these does not change her identity. She is still rooted to her culture and her own personality. Therefore, I tend to agree with Santha that something maintains its essence and identity regardless the name it is given.
Names are important in giving a sense of identity. In fact, this story refers to Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” whereby Juliet asserts that “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” (Rau 1389). But Santha refutes this notion, claiming that the name does not matter as the individual will still retain his or her essence or identity. Drawing from this story, this paper will discuss the significance of names especially for minority groups while drawing from Santha’s refute against Juliet’s assumption in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”. This paper will also explain the reason as to why choosing the way we are named matters.
A name is vital for minority groups since it helps influence their cultural identity which helps them to fit into the superior culture in order to coexist in harmony and efficiency (DeLay et al. 637). According to the story, it may appear like Santha and her sister had to lose their cultural identity in order to join and learn in the Anglo-Indian school, but the story depicts this not to be practically true. Even though she got a new name in that school, her identity stayed static. That is to mean, a new name cannot change an individual’s nature but only helps to fit into a certain social group. Santha refutes Juliet’s statement “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” showing that her identity was till the same when in school being referred to as Cynthia (Rau 1390). Despite being given an Anglo name, they were still identified as Indians. Nothing change as naturally and culturally she remained static as an Indian. Just as their mother said, “you can bury a dog’s tail for seven years, but it still comes out curly, you can take a British away from his home for a lifetime, and he still remains insular” (Rau 1391). The only thing that changing their names helped them a minority group is to be accepted in the school to learn there.
Names also help individuals from minority groups to develop courage and self-determination. It is argued that names tend to affect an individual’s confidence and self-esteem (Strauss 22). In the story, Santha feels estranged when assigned the new name, she loses her courage and confidence as she feels uncomfortable. Santha and her sister find it difficult to get along with other students who tend to isolate themselves from them. In a place with a dominating culture, some individuals from a different culture tend to feel ashamed of their names when socializing which tend to affect them thus developing self-esteem issues (Rau 1391). Change of name gives an individual a false impression which can either make them develop or overcome self-esteem issues. In essence, I agree that one’s name is related to his or her culture they belong to thus giving them a cultural identity. And when assigned a new name from a different culture, their original culture remains rooted and unchanged in them as names change.
For the minority groups, names help them to alleviate their social status and match with those of other people in society. Therefore, assigning Anglo names to Santha and her sister who are from a minority group, Indians, helps to improve their status and how they are perceived in the school. In the story, the teacher clearly emphasized that they both need to be assigned new Anglo names so as to fit into the norms and culture of the school. Assigning Anglo name to Santha and her sister was to make them equal to other students by sharing something in common which was the Anglo names.
Names are indeed important in easing the identification process for minority groups. Minority groups tend to have unique names that are difficult to pronounce. In the story, Santha and Premila are Indian names that identify them as Indians, a minority group (Rau 1390). This form of identification can help in identifying them so that they can be given special attention and treatment since they are kind of disadvantaged in one way or another. Alternatively, since equality is vital in the school, assigning them new names eases the identification process since the new names are easily identified. Therefore, names play an important role in making it easy to identify individuals from minority groups so that they can be offered extensive aid and assistance.
Basically, a name cannot impact an individual’s abilities or relationships but rather helps in serving as a tool for distinguishing people. Therefore, names are important for the minority group in distinctly categorizing them into the group that requires special attention. However, this is evident in the story since Santha and Primela are assigned new Anglo names which would be easy for the teacher to identify them (Rau 1392).
Choosing how we are named is very critical because the name that we are given gives each and every one unique representation (DeLay et al. 638). Names describe an individual and are a representation of the individual, therefore it is critical that names that are assigned to us are chosen wisely. Some names are associated with certain behavioral characteristics which are attributed to certain cultural identity (DeLay et al. 640). For instance, Muslim culture is perceived to be associated with a culture of terrorism, therefore being assigned a Muslim name gives an individual a totally different representation of being a terrorist of which he or she is not. Therefore, we should not be assigned names randomly but accordingly to our preference.
To sum up, a name is a very essential aspect of describing an individual or labelling an individual’s representation. It is clear that someone’s name can change, but cannot change his or her identity but rather helps in serving as a tool for distinguishing people as Santha found that the names she and her sister were assigned did not change who they are and their identity stayed static since they were still identified as Indians and other students isolated themselves from them. However, it is evident that a name plays a significant role in enhancing lives for individuals from minority groups by easing their identification process which opens them to special treatment and opportunities. Therefore, it is important that we consider how we are named so that we ensure that we are named appropriately which match our original identity and conduct.