Parent Sparks Cultural Appropriation Baby Name Debate With Gran's Nickname

The internet has been left divided after a new mom asked if the name she wanted to choose for her baby would be defined as cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation is defined as borrowing or taking from a minority or indigenous culture and its ramifications, and as new parents search further for unusual and individual names for their children, discussions around cultural appropriation and baby names have become more frequent.

​​In a post that now has over 100 replies, Mumsnet user FoilWrappedBiscuit explained: "We wanted to give our new baby my gran's name as a middle name. My gran's real name is a traditional English name. Think Doris. But since I was a teenager, everyone has known her as another name, one that is very obviously from another culture. Let's say Parvati. Everyone knows her as Parvati, her husband, her children, everyone—and has done for 70+ years."

Baby hand and list of names
A stock photo of a baby's hand, left, and a picture of a pregnant woman listing baby names, right. A woman asking if she can name her child after a character that was in a movie in brownface has sparked a debate around cultural appropriation online. MihailDechev/Liudmila Chernetska/Getty Images

She continued to explain that her grandmother had gotten the name from a movie because she loved the character and thought she was beautiful.

But the Mumsnet user had recently discovered that the character in the film had been portrayed by a white actor using brownface.

Brownface is a term used to refer to the practice of wearing makeup to imitate the appearance of a non-white person—typically South Asian or Latin American—as part of a performance.

Regarded as incredibly offensive, the practice that was once common in movies and theater is now greatly disapproved of.

"This is making me hesitate," said the poster. "The name itself is so bound up with my gran that I'd sort of glossed over the misgivings about giving an English girl an Indian middle name, but this backstory makes me a bit uncomfortable on my daughter's behalf. I'm imagining her growing up, having to explain her middle name. But I want to honor my gran. I've thought about just going for Doris but since nobody has called her that name for over 70 years it seems totally pointless. What would you do?"

Author of 2021 paper "Cultural appropriation: What it is and why it matters?" and professor at the University of Huddersfield in the United Kingdom, Rina Arya, Ph.D. told Newsweek: "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."

Online, however, opinions were split about choosing the name.

Some commenters were quick to go against the idea. One Mumsnet user wrote: "I wouldn't... I would use Doris to honor her because that is her real name so it's not pointless," while another said: "Use a different name to honor grandma. It's not worth it now."

But others couldn't see the harm in using the name and shared their thoughts in the comments.

One user wrote: "I'd use the name, people very rarely if ever have to explain their middle name to others. And just because the name is loosely associated with a character in brownface doesn't mean it doesn't have other associations—such as reminding you of your gran."

Another commenter said: "I think it's lovely. The intention is to continue a family name rather than ape another culture for the sake of it."

Newsweek was not able to verify the details of this case.

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