Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What's in a name? (Part 1)

Whether you recognize it or not, we all have brands. Like most businesses, we have an overall brand, our name, and a series of associated brands such as our titles, the various forms of our name, and the groups we associate with. The question is what does that brand say about us, and to what extent do we own it? Are we, like Pip in Great Expectations, destined to be defined by a childhood name whose implications we cannot escape? As Michelle recently observed in "Can I call you Katie?", sometimes nicknames are forced upon us. (More on issues related to diversity equity and the power of names to come in future posts.)

When I first went to college, I made the naive choice to adopt the nickname, Rig. I did this because I figured that I had to assimilate—following the great American dream—and assumed that my real name would be difficult to pronounce. Ironically, over the years, I have found that Rig presented hurdles to many Americans. We have trouble hearing the hard g, and tend to assume that it's Rick. Or we tend to add an extra g to ensure the hard g. Meanwhile, there is no such sound in Spanish. My own parents are unable to pronounce Rig. While it is clear that they would continue to call me Rigoberto regardless, this pronunciation barrier is shared by nearly all Spanish speakers. In short, by forsaking my full name I turned my attention away from my roots and gained little in the process.

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