‘My Name, My Identity’ Campaign Stresses Cultural Awareness

David Vargas acquired his new name at an indigenous ceremony 15 years ago. An old teacher visiting from Mexico rechristened him by some calculus involving the Aztec and Gregorian calendars as well as his favorite animal and color.

People have since known him as Texomazatl, which translates to Blue Deer.

“I have considered making it my primary name because of how common my actual name is and to feel more close to who I am,” says Vargas, a lifelong dancer who founded the San Jose-based Tezkatlipoka Aztec Dance and Drum School in 1988. “The historical reality for a lot of Mexican and Central American people is their Spanish names and last names are a reflection of the Spanish conquest.”

Since his renaming, Vargas has become known as Texomazatl—pronounced Te-sho-ma-zal—among traditional dance circles. At work, however, he still goes by David. Although his birth name is fairly common, it also tells a story. His mom named him after King David, the giant-slayer from the Old Testament. Unsurprisingly, his Aztec name is often mispronounced. But so, too, is his birth name.

“If they mispronounce my name, I just smile and tell them my name,” Vargas says. “When people call me Dave or Davey I tell them to either call me David [English pronunciation] or David [Spanish pronunciation] but don’t call me Dave or Davey, and I laugh and they laugh with me.”

Vargas is part of a growing movement in the United States to embrace traditional or unusual names. Though he adopted his Aztec moniker as an adult, a national campaign launched by the Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE) called “My Name, My Identity” encourages children to feel a sense of pride about their name and patiently correct people who mispronounce it.

As a father, Vargas wanted to honor his heritage by giving both of his sons a Mayan first name and an Aztec middle name. “They are both adults now,” he says, “but when they were younger they got made fun of by their classmates for their unique names.”

Even though he attended a bilingual school, his eldest son, Balam Vargas, was teased about his unusual identifier. “He was called ‘bin Laden’ by his classmates,” his father says. “His classmates did not realize where his name came from or the importance in how it defined Balam’s identity.”

Mispronouncing a person’s name can invalidate their identity and lead to anxiety and resentment, says Yee Wan, who oversees English-as-a-second-language programs for the SCCOE and helped launch the “My Name, My Identity” campaign this year. It has since taken off on social media under the hashtags #MyNameMyID or #ActuallyMyNameIs.

For generations, ethnic minorities have grown used to having their names butchered by teachers, friends, coworkers and anyone outside of their immediate family. It may not seem like a big deal, Wan says, but that subtle inconsideration can have profound psychological effects. Children whose names are mispronounced tend to grow up feeling less important, sociologists Rita Kohli and Daniel G. Solorzano found in a study on the impact of racial microaggressions published in 2012 by Santa Clara University.

San Jose State student Kavin Mistry has only had one teacher in his life pronounce his name the right way, his fifth grade teacher. His first name, Kavin (Ka-veen), is of Indian descent and denotes poetry and creativity. His mother carefully chose the name because of its artistic meaning.

Mistry says that his name was mispronounced so often he just began to respond to the pronunciation, “cave-in,” because he didn’t feel correcting his teachers was worth the effort anymore and he got accustomed to it.

“It got frustrating after a while, but I understood why people had trouble saying it correctly,” Mistry says. “My second year of high school I just stopped correcting the teacher, because I knew they were not going to get it right.”

Names tell a unique story about a person’s culture and who they are, says Wan, who experienced microaggressions over her Chinese name as a first generation immigrant who moved to the United States as a 17-year-old college student. Her first name, Yee, means friendship and her surname, Wan, means warmth.

In America, people call her Yee Wan. In China, she’s called Wan Yee. The name-flipping has caused a lot of confusion among her American friends and coworkers. Often, people around her would call her something else entirely. For years, Wan says, she was too timid to correct them.

“When I first came here as an international student my teacher had given me the name ‘Winnie,’” Wan says.

Though her teacher nicknamed her for convenience and no ill will, being called Winnie brought some sense of cultural erasure. It made Wan feel that her name and identity were unimportant. “I love her dearly, she’s very kind, helpful and supportive,” Wan says, “so I didn’t feel comfortable correcting her.”

Wan hopes that the “My Name, My Identity” initiative will educate teachers and community members about the importance of a person’s name. Particularly for people named after a family member, a saint or a positive personality trait. Or for people who choose to rename themselves.

The campaign asks people to take a pledge to respect a student’s name and identity. It’s a message that Wan expects to resonate in the South Bay, which claims one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse populations in the country. “The first step to make a student feel welcomed is by showing interest in their name so they feel welcomed and connected,” she says.

By promoting self-advocacy and personal pride, the campaign also aims to prevent bullying by teaching respect, building a more inclusive community and making students feel more engaged in school. Evergreen School District recently wove that message into its back-to-school campaign. The district will give students name tags and buttons so students and staff can wear their personal identifiers as a badge of honor and a conversation prompt.

To date, nearly 1,883 people around the world have taken the “My Name, My Identity” pledge, in addition to more than 370 school districts and 760 cities.

“It’s about taking action,” Wan says. “We have such a diverse community and this is something we should be really proud of.”

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28 Comments

  1. “Vargas is part of a growing movement…” reflective of an annoying upsurge of narcissism.

    • Who’s narcissism was it when those who invaded this land and enslaved native and kidnapped people forced those very same people to abandon their cultures’ naming and language for “Eurocentric Christian names and European languages only?

      Adherents to White superiority continue to “protest too much” any and all peoples abandoning the yolk of a variety of White superiority’s oppressive tactics.

      The only thing accomplished by the forced acceptance of “Eurocentric Christian” names and the forgetting of native languages was the perpetuation of the delusion of White Christian superiority.

      So who were the narcissists then and now? It sounds like your sound and fury makes you and those who agree with you the most legitimate members.

      • My goodness, it seems you’ve been binging on ethnic studies and downing big gulps of ice cold resentment. You asked who invaded this land? Well, in the case of the Aztecs (a vicious people in their own right, hated and feared by their neighbors), my first guess is the invaders were Spaniards with last names like Vargas, as in the European ancestors of David Texomazatl Vargas. So, tell me, should he embrace one part of his heritage and resent the other? Or is it more convenient, and more in keeping with what’s being preached in ethnic studies classes, just to blame white guys who don’t have Hispanic surnames or DNA. I’ve never heard anyone accuse Hispanic Americans of having placed a yoke of oppression upon Native Americans. Why is that? Why is it that when you ethnic warriors spout your nonsense your aim is always based on skin color and not historical accuracy? Could it because you are hopelessly racist, hateful, and resentful. Or is it you’re just dumb?

        • No one in the article has said anything about resentment. This is something that you are reading in to the article and the movement. Please do not be so quick to feel that you are being threatened, because you are not.

      • Daphne Morales is right, Delorme is wrong. Everyone has an unlimited right to name, label, describe, an define themselves and their demographic. Delorme actually demonstrated how naming and labeling can be weaponized.

        All I say is that if Atlantic Islanders are called to the dock of history that I want everyone with Spanish blood, Portuguese blood, and French blood to stand trial with me. The monarchs of all four countries unleashed their land and gold starved subjects on the Western Hemisphere, not just one.

  2. And how this County Office of Education program affected academic performance? It would seem just another distraction to divert attention from SCCOE’s pattern of profligate spending and abysmal results.

    Eager to change my opinion. Any SCCOE academic performance success stories?

  3. Guess the folks @SCCOE are either bored out of their minds or have a mandate from above to keep on “Divide et impera” narrative and divide us, the common folk, on anything and everything (but that’s just me).

    Let’s tell Hardiks, Wangs, and Hos, it’s all good. The society will be nice about this from now on so don’t “Americanize” yourself; Too bad the “movement” like this wasn’t around to help the folks like Louis C.K. (fka. Louis Szekely), Ben Kingsley (fka. Krishna Pandit Bhanji), George Michael (fka. Georgios Panayiotou), Kirk Douglas (fka. Issur Danielovitch Demsky), Gene Simmons (fka. Chaim Witz) etc. stay “true to their identity”. But hey, what do I know.

    After all, the Santa Clara County Office of Education is part of the state school system rated 47th in reading test scores so let them focus on “issues” that really matter.

  4. More psychobabble crap creeping into our schools, but Johnny can’t read, write, or do math.
    he pussification of America.

  5. “People have since known him as Texomazatl”.

    or just “Tex” for short?

    I think it is just human nature that people shorten peoples names. It is fine to correct them, but I think it will still happen.

  6. From now on, I want to be known as “Wallet-O” Payer of Taxes, supporter of dumbasses and worthless eaters.

  7. I for one feel the microaggression every time some product of SCCOE mispronounces a common name like George Bush, is not Jorge/Horhay, Edward is not Edwardo or am I supposed to assume English is such a second language here that that it should not need be taught correctly?

  8. I need to write a huge article, on how SJI mispelled my name. It’s ROBERT CORTESE. Not “KARAOKE KING OF D9″

    You’re all a bunch of dirtbags you know that right?

    • Just a suggestion. You might consider changing your name to “NOT DAVE CORTESE”.

      It could improve your social stature and public image.

  9. “To date, nearly 1,883 people have taken the “My Name, My Identity” pledge, in addition to more than 370 school districts and 760 cities.” So, out of a country of 315 MILLION people, a mere 1.883 people have jumped on the bandwagon, but a total of 1130 government entities have wasted the time to jump on that same PC driven bandwagon. Seriously?! Have that many school districts and cities actually wasted the time to even consider this so-called issue?? That’s way fewer that the Muslims in the US who want us all to adopt Sharia law. No wonder our kids are failing–the cities and boards of education are wasting time and taxpayer money to carve out yet another extremely small protected class into which to funnel more taxpayer money. When will it end? Only after we who work and pay the bills say ENOUGH ALREADY!!!

    • Get over it. Appears that you are looking for something to be mad about. And people to be mad at….

  10. My maiden name is a long mouthful name of Scandinavian extraction. It was also the same name, but spelled differently, of a well known singer. It was misspelled and mispronounced at least once a week if not more often. With the advent of computerized records, the last few letters would also be chopped off as well until last name fields were extended beyond 10 letters. My brothers had shortened variations of it given to them by friends as fond nicknames. It didn’t make me feel any less a person, or less relevant. No matter what ‘culture’ you come from, even ‘white privilege’ (I hate that term), someone will mispronounce or misspell your name. GET OVER IT; I did a very long time ago.

  11. I’m expecting a rain of lawsuits from Slavic types with few if any vowels in their names.

    • Former player Doug Gwosdz may have a case against Major League Baseball, whose players dealt with his difficult surname by nicknaming him “Eye Chart.”

      • Just as Federal guidelines require schools to permit bathroom usage based on which gender a person identifies with, so do I believe and demand that a person’s name and ethnic identity should depend on which ethnic group they feel they identity with most.

        Although my family immigrated from Europe in the early 1900’s and with the exception of one Native American blip on my family radar (that’s a metaphoric and not a derogatory term), I consider myself to be a mixed race African American from Outer Mongolia.

        I reserve the right to feel “profile stopped” every time the police pull me over for going 65 mph in a 25 mph school zone or when I roll through a stop sign at 25 mph. I identify myself as a victim whenever any cop (I feel that all cops are white males) defends himself if I attack him and even though I have failed every class I have ever taken since kindergarten, I reserve the right to consider myself discriminated against when any Ivy League college rejects my application.

        As well, even though I entered the country illegally, I demand government subsidized housing, free medical care and a monthly stipend from the State, Federal and local governments. Also, although I am the only one who speaks the ethnic language I have invented for myself, i.e., mongolian-ebonics, I demand a translator for court.

        Due to my self-perceived Monglio-African ancestry then, I demand to be called “Genghis Culpepper Jackson” and will sue anyone who doesn’t allow me to pee where I want to or who calls me by any other name than the one I feel I am. There; problem solved.

        Oh, and Finfan, you are a (every ad hominem political term denoting bigotry or intolerance), we hate you, you have no right to your opinion and your beliefs are stupid. There: another problem solved.

        • JSR wrote: “… I identify myself as a victim whenever any cop (I feel that all cops are white males) …”

          In a world where reason is respected, the notion that a person’s established racial identity could be subject to the prejudices of another would be rejected outright. But the world in which we live is one where reason is often missing in action (if not presumed dead), thus we should view Robillard’s sarcastic assertion that “all cops are white males” not as folly but as foresight. Consider:

          We have a president who identifies himself as African-American, which is his right, but in his words and deeds he makes obvious he views white people as others, separate from himself and, presumably, his ancestry.

          African-Americans rioted in reaction to what they believed was the racist murder of Freddie Gray, apparently viewing all the officers involved (white, black, and female) as white males. The African-American prosecutor did the same.

          The government has endorsed the scientifically unsupportable contention that, insofar as gender identity, people are whatever they feel they are. One has to wonder: what unsupportable contention will government next embrace?

          In major cities across America, African-American parents are expressing their fear of what might happen to their children at the hands of the police, despite the diversity of their police force (less than half of Baltimore cops – and top commanders, are white).

          Non-white police officers are regularly (and unfairly) accused of serving (by proxy) the alleged racist hatred of white cops. It is an accusation that, when respected, makes racism a factor in every arrest of a minority.

          After high-speed chases, African-American arrestees, even those fleeing from homicides, routinely cite as their reason for fleeing their fear of racist cops.

          With the growing racial diversity of police departments in the big cities where black thuggery is out of control, it’s inevitable that the whiteness of police officers featured in officer-involved shooting videos is likely to drop to levels alarming to both the scumbag media and professional race racketeers (BLM, NAACP, etc.). How they react will be as they always do, turning to the government for relief, this time in the form of an amendment establishing white racism as a presumptive factor in all interactions between the police and African-Americans. The 28th Amendment, to be known as the “all cops are white males presumption,” will excuse African-Americans (and those persons identifying as such) from any and all obligations to cooperate with law enforcement, and furthermore, will presume that in their every interaction with the police, all officers, no matter their race or gender, shall be presumed to hold white racist views.

          The 28th Amendment will be followed very quickly by several developments: HBO will announce the blockbuster series, American Mogadishu — Detroit, Michigan; Ford Motors will produce the Uber Urban, a high-speed, armored taxi; Black Lives Matter will evolve into a desperate demand for increased police patrols; and the 29th Amendment will become law, authorizing the use of American military forces to isolate municipal war zones from surrounding civilization, overthrow local war lords, and establish permanent martial law.

  12. Daphne Morales is right, Delorme is wrong. The latter person has simply weaponized her statement into a kind of supremacism in claiming the right to know all about history.

    I support the idea that each person and each demographic have an unlimited right to name, label, define, and describe themselves. We have been converted into a nation of tribes (or demographics) and I am including the European-Americans among that number. We got a dose of labeling hatred from the Mercury News for the last 30 years (“gringo” to “honky” and much, much worse. One sitting governor was even labeled a gorilla by that daily paper.

    On the point of historical wrong-doing, I welcome a trial but only one that includes everyone of French, Portuguese, and Spanish blood ties back to those countries, not just English descendants. And then we want the right to offer evidence about Genghis Khan and Tamerlane and numerous other Asian and African warlords who went on rampages. For example, Tamerlane lived during the same century as Columbus sailed in, but Tamerlane has the title because he killed south and central Asians equal in number to 1/5 of all the people alive in the world at the time. So put us all in the dock, and we want the right to file historical criminal charges against all the others who committed similar crimes to those Delorme claimed.

    • Dale,
      Don’t leave out the Mayan ball court games, and sun worshipers daily routine, It will tear your heart out!

    • > Delorme is wrong. The latter person has simply weaponized her statement into a kind of supremacism in claiming the right to know all about history.

      Dale:

      An excellent and astute assessment.

      “Progressives” have “weaponized” identity politics.

      The three pillars of progressivism are:

      1. tribalism
      2. sophistry
      3. nihilism

      Delorme has pushed all the buttons.