Is Your Baby Name Cultural Appropriation? Viral Post Sparks Debate

A woman has sparked debate online after asking if it is possible that using baby names from other countries and cultures constitutes cultural appropriation.

User WideOpenSpaces on the popular discussion site Mumsnet asked the question on Friday where it has received hundreds of replies and ignited conversation.

The user asked on the AIBU (Am I being unreasonable) forum: "I'm ready to be told I'm being silly but am I right in thinking there is a level of... appropriateness? Inappropriateness? In using names from other cultures? For example... would it be strange for an English couple with no discernible links to any other countries or heritage to name their child Priya, Otto, Etienne or Nimah?"

Rina Arya, Ph.D. is a professor at the University of Huddersfield in the United Kingdom and the author of the 2021 paper "Cultural appropriation: What it is and why it matters?" She told Newsweek: "Cultural appropriation is the borrowing or taking from a minority or indigenous culture and their ramifications."

Newborn baby foot with name tag
Debate is soaring online after a viral post asked if baby names can be examples of cultural appropriation. The above stock photo shows a newborn baby with a name tag around its ankle. VVargas/Getty Images

Arya explained: "I think that the use of names can cause offense because language is also the preserve of a culture. Problems arise because names are becoming increasingly global, and so are in wider circulation."

"Names, like languages, are sacred; they are bound up with identity, and that takes us back to the central issue of cultural appropriation, which is about safeguarding minority or indigenous cultures," she said. "It's clear that with increased awareness of cultural appropriation more aspects of culture are going to be questioned."

Debate soared on Mumsnet as people flooded the comments to share their thoughts on cultural appropriation and baby names. One said: "It really doesn't make sense to use a name from a different culture, especially one that has meaning if you can't relate to it at all."

"It really depends on the name, I think," a commenter wrote. "For example, the name Sarah is Hebrew. It is one of the most common names."

Said one Mumsnet user: "I think you are confusing cultural appropriation with cultural appreciation. One of my kids has the Manx spelling of her Gaelic name. We have no links to the Isle of Man."

"It's a natural consequence of an intermingling of cultures," shared another user: "Some might argue that it should be considered a good thing, not appropriation."

Another commenter agreed and said: "My daughter's name is the French version of an English name. You're being ridiculous. Names are names and unless you're going to dress little Etienne in stripes with onions around his neck how is it possibly remotely offensive?"

But others felt that there were baby names that could be perceived as cultural appropriation. One commenter said: "Friends have called her daughter Amelie, which we find strange. Her mum is obsessed with France and their culture with no connection to it at all."

"I think the only ones that would stand out to me as an odd choice if the family have no connection is a name that has really obvious, strong religious or cultural connotations - such as Mohammed or Ibrahim for example," a commenter wrote.

When it comes to cultural appropriation, Arya welcomes discussion and debate: "Some even talk about the ethics of the right to cook or even consume the food of minority groups. These questions will always raise different viewpoints but they need to continue to be asked because it is vital, in a global world, and one of great historical and current inequality, that the rights of groups with less advantage are protected."