Review of “‘It was just my name!’: A CRT/CRF Analysis of International Female Graduate Students’ Perceptions and Experiences Regarding Their Ethnic Name”
Rationale and Interest
“What’s in a name? Everything if you pronounce it correctly.”
On the first day of school many students are nervous about schedules, or making friends, or even making sure they do not get lost enroute to class. However, for some students the worst part of the first day of school no matter the grade, is roll call or attendance. When you grow up with a “unique” name, based upon your current country or area, there is mental preparation that must occur every time you introduce yourself or are called upon in class. When you have a name that does not match someone’s internal pronunciation or their standard ideas, your name becomes something you do not recognize or embrace because of how it is mispronounced or joked about.
My name is Jan, it is pronounced like Yawn, and comes from my great uncle who was a first generation American born to German immigrants. Why does my introduction take so long? Because in America when people see Jan they think of “Jan Brady” not of a male name. Years of being misgendered, made fun of, or simply acquiescing to the name John was my lived experience with my name. Living this experience with my name led me to the article ““It was just my name!”: A CRT/CRF Analysis of International Female Graduate Students’ Perceptions and Experiences Regarding Their Ethnic Name”.
Approaching any work in of critical race theory (CRT) requires introspective on my own positionality. I identify as a white, cis, gay, male and that means I am afforded privileges actively denied to others whether implicitly or explicitly. As I continue the work of CRT inside and outside the classroom, I am continuously reviewing my own privileges and experiences while learning. As I approach this scholarship, I am committed to continuously learning and expanding my knowledge. The work will never be done, but I am working on it every chance I can get.
Key Concepts and Themes
Wang et al. (2023) utilize the tenets of critical race theory (CRT) and critical race feminism (CRF) to analyze international student’s own perceptions of their names while in school. Their study was guided by two main research questions and gathered participants from a midwestern predominately white institution (PWI). Over Zoom interviews they discussed their perceptions, experiences, and more with their names. After transcriptions and interview recording the authors dissected the multidimensionality and racism present in looking at “unique” names in the United States.
The first theme appearing in the article is one of multidimensionality of identities of the participants that is present in their names. “An individual’s name not only symbolizes who he/she/they are as a person but also provides significant information about that person’s ethnic, cultural, and social identity and religious affiliation” (Wang et al., 2023, p. 179). It is within this theme I see two main tenets of CRT present. As stated by Delgado and Stefancic (2017) two tenets of CRT are: 1. the fluidity and multidimensionality of identities, and 2. that racism is real and pervasive in society/the world. It is these two tenets in my opinion that lead the entire article and its analysis of the participants experiences, through the CRT lens.
In addition, the authors use CRF which follows the same tenets of CRT but in a feminist approach to separate the lived experiences of women of color from white women and men of color. The second main theme present within the article is that ethnic names lead to racist microaggressions, alongside the internalized racism participants felt. From being glossed over in ceremonies, told to shorten names, or even the practice of selecting an anglicized/English name to use were common threads in this regard. “I think it is a matter of personal pride…I’ve never had an English name, nor am I going to have one” (Wang et al., 2023, p. 179). This overt nod to colonialism and subverting the white supremacy by intentionally refusing to anglicize their name, is an example of the counter storytelling tenet present in CRT (Delgado & Stefancic, 2017). While assuming many white people generally never think of how to change their name for ease of pronunciation, this article becomes a further example of how people of color live in a world dominated by race in contrast to whites (Tate IV, 1997).
Implications and Critiques
Implications of the article showcase how important names are to individuals and the power they hold in relation to their identities. When correct pronunciation, and recognition of names is implemented, it can disrupt colonialism and white supremacy in meaningful ways. Through counter storytelling, and the recognition that racism is present and interwoven into society the CRT lens to names, provides a wide scope of discussion and interpretation. While this article raises important discussions on ethnic names and their importance to their holders, there are critiques that in future iterations of this research should be explored.
Wang et al. (2023) specifically used CRF as their research was for female identified perspectives on their names. However, there was no discussion or comparison to male names. A small portion mentioned that white/anglo names had easier times getting interviews or rental agreements. In a future research project of this type including all ethnic names and then parsing out the experiences of different identities with CRT and CRF would be most beneficial. There are numerous male-identifying students with ethic names that perhaps could expand the implications Wang et al. found.
In addition to expanding or including male-identifying students with ethnic names and their experiences, I purpose that LGBTQ+ students with ethnic names be included in this research as well. As some LGBTQ+ individuals change their names to better reflect their gender identities; their experience with ethnic names, that they themselves chose to use, would be an interesting connection to build. If a student willingly chooses a new ethnic name, after other experiences with their name, how could the tenets of CRT and the fluidity of identity be applied as a lens?
My last suggestion or critique for this article would be the inclusion of more countries of origin. While understanding it is all dependent on responses and willingness to participate, of the eight participants only three were from outside the Asia continent. Of the three, only one was from the Africa continent. If more respondents were available or become available, it would be beneficial to see the wide breadth of unique and ethnic names. With more examples, there would even be an interesting way to connect diaspora events through names. For example, in Guyana with a large population tracing roots to the India subcontinent, how have those names evolved in a South American country with Indian descendants? This question and more could be realized and explored with a larger pool of names from a larger pool of countries.
Wang et al. (2023) gave a detailed insight and exploration of how unique names can be an integral part of identities and when mispronounced or taken away how it affects individuals. Should they continue this research, or another take it up for themselves it could be expanded upon by including male identifying students with ethnic names, inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals with ethnic names, and if possible, expanding the countries represented by participants. Overall, they have begun important work for all of us with unique names, and how it can shape our experiences when they are mispronounced. As Uzo Aduba says while quoting their mother, “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky, Dostoyevsky, & Michelangelo, they can learn to say Uzoamaka” (Aduba, 2020).
Aduba, Uzo [@UzoAduba] (2020, October 21) My mom taught me not to change my name for those unwilling to learn it…[Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/UzoAduba/status/1318951076255666177?lang=en
Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. (2017). Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (3rd ed.). New York University Press.
Tate IV, W. F. (1997). Critical Race Theory and Education: History, Theory, and Implications.
Wang, P., Gu, X., & Morales, A. R. (2023). “It was just my name!”: A CRT/CRF Analysis of International Female Graduate Students’ Perceptions and Experiences Regarding Their Ethnic Name. 13(2).
- Ladson-Billings, G. (1998). Just what is critical race theory and what’s it doing in a nice field like education? International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 16(6), 883–886. https://doi.org/10.1080/714858243
- Reed, E., Figueroa, E., & Carpenter, M. (2022). What Critical Race Theory Is, What It Isn’t, And Why It Is Important, You Should Know: A Call to Action. Research Issues in Contemporary Education, 7(2).
- When unique names hold part of an identity, what does mispronouncing it do to the individual?
- With the CRT tenet of racial realism, how are names subverting white supremacy?
- How are names tied to racism and feminism as frameworks?