Friday, February 16, 2007

What's in a name?

I was at a class of sorts last night with Philippe, and at the end, the teacher asked if he would like to be called Philippe or Philip. He replied with a big smile, "Whatever you like!" She kept pushing it, and then I asked him "If you could choose, which would you rather?" He still insisted that anyone could call him whatever they liked. I got a little irritated. Not at him, but at the question he was asked. She didn't ask if he would rather his nickname "Pipo", or Philippe... she asked if he would rather Philip... which is not his name. I finally said that, to both of them. I assured him he was being very polite to let her make the choice, but that his name was NOT Philip. I think I got the point across to her.

On the way home, I talked with Philippe about it. I asked him if he knew why I told that lady to call him Philippe. He didn't know. I said "Philippe is the name your mom in Haiti gave you, and it's a beautiful name. I love your name, and I am happy your mom named you Philippe, because now I get to be your mom and have a really cool son named Philippe. You are not Philip. We call you Pipo because that is a cool nickname that also came from Haiti. He smiled at all this and said simply "okay."

But I have been thinking about it all day. I know how hard it has been for him to fit himself into this new life, and I know how hard he must try to 'fit in' all the time. I also know that he will have a lifetime of this, as much as I would like to avoid it. I am happy to see him adapt to American ways, and laugh at what a little American boy he has become. But he will always be Haitian too, and I don't want him to forget that, I want him to be proud of it. It made me angry that this woman would even suggest we call him by an americanized version of his name. It makes me angry to think there will be people throughout his lifetime that will make him want to conform to their standards.

In his 10 years he has been through adjustments many will never go through in a lifetime. But it doesn't change who he is. He is my strong, proud, beautiful son. Another mother, 10 years ago, brought this strong, proud, beautiful boy into the world, and named him Philippe. And I will make sure he remembers that. It will never be "just a name" to me, and I hope he learns that as well. Don't call him Philip... I don't know who Philip is.


vjoseph said...

I appreciate your posting because of your understanding of the "Americanizing" impulse that robs people of their cultural heritage. Even if they choose to do so, there is so much pressure imposed to change[lose one's language, change one's name, Westernize one's dress, Westernize what one talks about]so the choice is, to some extent, coerced. This, I suppose, is assimilation -- supposedly a positive thing. The question is: For whom? Yes, it makes things "easier" for the person who assimilates because they can lose their so-called difference. But it makes it really easy for those who don't want to learn a language, learn about the world outside of one's circle, learn about a worldview other than one's own. It makes it real easy for those who don't want to know about the circumstances that led immigrants to come to the United States -- circumstances that, perhaps, the US played a part in creating.

So, I wholeheartedly support you in encouraging Philippe to keep his name, his accent, his way of thinking, and anything else that comes from Haiti that he wants to hold on to.

Stay strong. There will be more battles like this one.

KelseyChristine said...

Phillipe is a beautiful name!

My foster brother's name is Kayavin and my grandparents could never pronounce it (they didn't try very hard). They decided to just call him Kevin... it made me sooo mad!

Life in Fitzville said...

Val - thanks for yet more words of wisdom. There is a big learning curve with this whole experience, and I appreciate having other perspectives to help me wade through stuff. Even better when that wisdom is in the family!

Kelsey - So sad that your grandparents couldn't learn to pronounce Kayavin. The excuse of americanizing things just because it's "easier" makes me angry too. That's why I will fight for my son to keep his name. Thanks for your comment :)