What’s In A Name: Cultural Identity Abroad

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In arguably one of the most iconic love stories ever told, Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare poses the question “What’s in a name?” While Juliet goes on to assure her lover that “which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” I beg to differ.

According to practically every name website on the internet, my name, Guadalupe, is of Spanish and Arabic origins and is a combination of “valley” and “wolf.” It is most famously known as part of the name of the patron saint of Mexico, La Virgen de Guadalupe. For me however, my name comes from my great grandmother and symbolizes not only my heritage as a Chicana, but also the preservation of my family’s language and traditions.

Studying Abroad With a Non-English Name

As anyone with non-English or culturally specific names understands, growing up with my name had its ups and downs. I always dreaded the first day of school because I knew after the teacher read “Sam,” “June,” and “Matthew” off the attendance sheet, there would just be silence when it came to my name. As I got older, I was often asked in academic and professional settings if I had a “less ethnic” or “English” version of my name. And when I moved across the globe to study abroad in India, the same struggles followed.

Study abroad IndiaI was quickly met by students and professors that were quick to tell me how difficult my name is to pronounce. I was simply referred to as “you” while people with names like Stephanie and Alexander were asked over and over if they were getting their names pronounced correctly. I was given involuntary nicknames and simply ignored after being introduced. Having my name stripped from me, I felt a sense of shame. I was trying my hardest to understand the culture and people of my home for the next four months, but it felt like no one cared enough to attempt saying my name. I felt defeated and discouraged and this was only the beginning of my study abroad experience! I began to ask myself why I didn’t just go by one of the nicknames someone had thrown at me. Why didn’t I just let this go?

The answer to these questions is simple: because my name means something to me. While studying abroad is meant to bring you a whole new world of experiences and discoveries about yourself, it shouldn’t force you to erase any part of your identity for the convenience of others.

Tips

If you find yourself being pressured to compromise elements of your cultural identity to fit in, here are a couple of ways you can cope and deal while studying abroad.

You can help people who are willing to learn how to pronounce your name. You don’t have to teach a seminar on phonics but kindly repeating your name when introducing yourself can help others learn the correct way to pronounce it.

Do not change your name if you do not want to. If you feel comfortable in a new-found nickname, embrace it! But if you do not want one, do not feel pressured by anyone to go by a different name. It should always be your choice because in the end it is your name, and you should always be comfortable in every element of who you are.

Stay grounded in who you are. For me this meant talking to folks back home and listening to a lot of Selena. Hearing people say my name without hesitation and listening to music in the language I grew up hearing made me remember why I love my name and my heritage so much.  Take care of yourself and don’t feel ashamed of your name!

Don’t let this stop you from having the best study abroad experience yet! Learn as much you can, try everything, and have fun!

While a rose may smell just as sweet regardless of its name, you are not a rose. While we all have stories behind our names, none are exactly the same. Your name, no matter its roots, number of syllables, or punctuation is yours and yours alone. Whether back home or abroad, be unapologetically yourself.

Guadalupe Mabry is a Public Health and Biology student at American University and studied abroad with IFSA on the Global and Public Health program in Manipal, India in the fall of 2018. She served as an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-to-Study program.

Article by Guadalupe Mabry