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What's in a Name? - featured February 21, 2011

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What's in a Name?

By: Alejandro Brice, PhD, CCC-SLP, Ellen Kester, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, and Roanne Brice, PhD., CCC-SLP

Our personal names are an inherent part of who we are, i.e., culture and personality. I was born with the name "Alejandro.". My parents shortened this to "Ale" (ah-leh) when calling me. However, upon becoming a naturalized citizen of the U.S. my name was changed to "Alexander" or "Alex.". Part of this change could have also been the result of beginning school in the U.S. and my parents wanting me to "fit in.". What occurred was that my name became a policy issue and I became "assimilated" to English and American society upon entering school.

In the mid-1960's, the prevalent immigration policy was that all individuals were expected to assimilate and forgo their ethnic identity. This assimilationist view was thought of as a "melting pot"; whereupon, all immigrants were expected to become a part of the common American culture. I grew up as "Alex" to all my English- speaking teachers, and friends.

Upon entering the speech-language pathology profession, I reverted to using my given Spanish name (i.e., Alejandro) in professional matters. I choose, as an adult, to retain my ethnic, cultural, and linguistic identity. This choice reflected the policy of "acculturation,", where one is able to maintain one's cultural and ethnic identity and still be a vital part of American society.

The use of my Spanish name also became a bellweather policy indicator. Professionally, I introduce myself as "Alejandro.". This is my birth-name and the name that I use. Whether the other person chooses to acculturate and use "Alejandro" or chooses to assimilate and use my name "Alex" is an indication of their perspective on culture, language, and language policy.

Do others choose to call me "Alex" because it is easier to pronounce? I doubt that this is an issue because after pronouncing my name most individuals can say "Alejandro" with little or no difficulty. Then, why is it that others choose to say "Alex"? Would I, personally, change "Maria" to "Mary" or "Jorge" to "George" or "Esteban" to "Steve"? Doing so restricts an inherent diversity in who we are. In addition, changing a person's name does not treat that person as an individual and does not respect their core identity. Although, it may be tempting to shorten someone's name to an English or American equivalent, please respect that person and show your appreciation of diversity. Call that person by the name they have used in presenting themselves. Gracias, thank you.


This Month's Featured Authors:
Alejandro Brice, Ph.D., CCC-SLP University of South Florida St. Petersburg
Roanne Brice, Ph.D., CCC-SLP University of Central Florida
Ellen Kester, Ph.D., CCC-SLP Bilinguistics, Inc.

We thank our authors for providing this monthly article.

Dr. Alejandro E. Brice is an Associate Professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg in Secondary/ESOL Education. His research has focused on issues of transference or interference between two languages in the areas of phonetics, phonology, semantics, and pragmatics related to speech-language pathology. In addition, his clinical expertise relates to the appropriate assessment and treatment of Spanish-English speaking students and clients.

Dr. Ellen Kester is a Founder and President of Bilinquistics, Inc., She earned her Ph.D. in Communication Sciences and Disorders from The University of Texas at Austin. She earned her Master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology and her Bachelor's degree in Spanish at The University of Texas at Austin. She has provided bilingual Spanish/English speech-language services in schools, hospitals, and early intervention settings. Her research focus is on the acquisition of semantic language skills in bilingual children, with emphasis on assessment practices for the bilingual population. She has performed workshops and training seminars, and has presented at conferences both nationally and internationally. Dr. Kester teaches courses in language development, assessment and intervention of language disorders, early childhood intervention, and measurement at The University of Texas at Austin. She can be reached at [email protected]

Dr. Roanne G. Brice is the Assistant to the Chair for the Department of Child, Family and Community Sciences at the University of Central Florida. Her research interests have focused on language and beginning literacy skills in bilingual children and students with disorders/disabilities. In addition to teaching at the university level, Dr. Brice has been an itinerant and self-contained classroom speech-language pathologist as well as a general education classroom teacher. She may be reached at [email protected]

Tags: Article Bilingualism Newsletter 25 February 2011