Is it cultural appropriation if I give my white, American baby a Japanese name?

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When I was pregnant with my first child, I had my heart set on a specific Japanese name (Sakura) for my child. Her father dismissed the idea because the baby wasn't Japanese, and we ended up naming our daughter Evelynn.

He and I split, and I'm married to a wonderful man who fully supports this Japanese name as we await a baby of our own.

Here's the thing: we're two white Americans of European descent, and thanks to my ex I still have this sickening feeling in the back of my head about using the name.

Have any of you used baby names that aren't from your culture and ethnicity? How do you feel about it?

-Laura

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  1. I think you should name your baby whatever you want. We went with a traditionally Russian or Spanish name (Elena) even though neither my husband nor I have Russian or Spanish heritage (I am something of a Russophile and speak the language). I use the Russian pronunciation (Yelena) but no one else does. And no one has given me any negative feedback about it either.
    I say do what you want. You daughter will hate and love her name at different times in her life whether you name her Apple or Jessica or Sandy.
    good luck!

    1 agrees
    • I really love the name Anya, which was a Russian character in a book I read once. I tend to love Slovak sounding names.

      7 agree
  2. In a world that is growing smaller and smaller…why not pick a name from another culture. Who knows you could start a whole new baby naming trend.

    1 agrees
  3. I feel like people use names that aren't part of their heritage all the time. Perhaps a Japanese name is just more obvious because of the way it sounds. My name is of Turkish and Italian origins, and I am neither.

    Also, I knew two children, siblings, whose names both meant "oak tree"- one in Japanese (Nara) and one in Hebrew (Elan). To my knowledge, they were neither Japanese nor Jewish (but they were both awesome). I think cross-cultural names in the United States are generally more accepted than other ways of mixing cultures. I say if you love it- go for it!

    1 agrees
  4. I am not Slavic, but I like many Slavic girl names. My first daughter has one.

    Yes, it is, by definition, cultural appropriation to use a name not from your own culture. Is it wrong to do so? Not in the least.

    A more important question is whether the name will cause your child grief later in life. That's something to avoid.

    1 agrees
    • I second this. As someone who is frequently having to correct people as to pronunciation of my name, it can be frustrating. So be conscious of just how different the name is and how difficult to pronounce and/or spell. A really different name could be a middle name just to make day-to-day life easier.

      Not that you can't choose whatever name you want if you're respectful. But being respectful will also help avoid grief. Know what the name means. You don't want to name your kid with the equivalent of the badly translated kanji character tattoos.

      1 agrees
      • Yes. Yes, yes, yes on the getting a translation. Especially if you're looking at kanji. One of my American friends looked up kanji to use for her daughter's name on the internet. Her daughter's name: Keri. Normal name, right? So she picked two kanji that read the syllables.

        下 = read "ke"
        痢 = read "ri"

        But, unfortunately together, 下痢 = read "geri," a.k.a. diarrhea. =/ And the mom had gotten it tattooed on her body! And printed it and had it engraved on things and had it framed in the girl's room…

        Kanji is like a weapon in the wrong hands. For reference as to some of the less-horrific kanji snafus: http://hanzismatter.blogspot.jp/

        4 agree
  5. It depends. My child will have a traditional Syrian, Arab name for a first name – but my husband is a person of Syrian and Islamic descent. Still, i'll be a white woman with a child with a "non-white" name.

    I'd say that it depends. Some names have a great amount of symbolism and cultural signifigance attached to them. There are cultures in which certain names are reserved, used only in certain situations, etc. I'd say to do your research – does this name have a profound meaning or symbolism in Japan? What does it mean? Does it have any strong religious associations? You might also want to run this by any people of Japanese descent or heritage that you know. Listen to them and get their feedback. They may be able to tell you something you didn't know. Motives are also important. Do you know why you really want the name? I'd be wary of motives that have to do with how "exotic" the East is or any potential stereotype ideas (I've run into this in the Celtic community – people pick very old Celtic names because they want their sons to be "strong, warrior" Celtic men and they've adopted the stereotypes of what Celtic people are). If you like the same because its beutiful, or has a lovely meaning or some other reason, I can't really see a problem with that.

    If you do your research, give some thought to the motives and reasons and are comfortable with the name, then go ahead and name away! To me, its not so much the name itself that becomes problematic for a lot of people, its only when the namer picks it for a reason that ignores the culture, or religion or history that spawned it. Appropriation happens, to me, not when you simply take a name, but when you take it without regard for where it came from. Names need to be handled with respect when they come from different cultures, and as long as you do that, I think you'll be ok.

    16 agree
    • Yes! This is exactly why we ended up picking a name closer to our traceable lineage instead of something from a culture we weren't directly connected to. The names we liked actually had a different weight to them in their native cultures, and we didn't want to saddle our child with those associations. It is also worth considering whether you want your child to always be linked to a culture not their own; they may not want that connection to follow them their whole life, especially if it is essentially a fabricated one, but then again, perhaps YOUR connection will be meaningful and rich enough to carry over for your child! At the end of the day, I'm a big proponent of going with what feels right, so as long as you know it's right, it is!

      2 agree
  6. I think in most cases, it's appropriation, yes. Do you have any special ties to Japan? Have you studied the language?

    Also, naming your child after one of the most exoticised elements of Japanese culture, eh.

    It's probably best to start by asking Japanese and Japanese American folks what they think, as they stand to lose the most if a white person does something appropriative.

    But, it's a bit like white people getting tattoos of kanji. Just, why? Because it looks 'cool' and 'pretty'? Grab-bagging items from around the world until those items lose all meaning is something white folk do a lot, at little consequence to them, but at much consequence to the origin culture.

    Also consider, is it a privilege for a white person to wear such a name? Many folks from Japanese descent may feel forced to go by a more western names when in places like the US to avoid racism or prejudice.

    27 agree
    • Although it sounds practical to suggest that the poster ask Japanese or Japanese-American people what they think, I'm not sure that it would actually be very helpful to her.

      A handful of people cannot possibly speak for the entire Japanese community or diaspora, so even if the poster finds some people in favour of her name choice or some people against it, she won't be able to arrive at a more definitive or satisfying answer.

      Also, I'm not sure I'd classify this question as an example of "grab-bagging items from around the world" or that naming her child Sakura would contribute to a loss of its meaning, especially since the poster seems to be very conscious about its origin and symbolism and choosing it for those reasons

      3 agree
      • I'm sorry, but speaking to Japanese people isn't meant to find a spokesperson for the community. However, it is important to seek out input from the group whose name you want to use. Asking for a consesus is impossible – you'll never find a Japanese person who can speak for all of them. But you still should do it. It is their name – their culture, their language, their history behind it. Of course they should be consulted, not for approval, but for background. Is the name religiously significant? Does it come with restrictions, generally? If it reserved for certain times, or people? They would be the most likely to know. The poster can also consult the internet for this stuff.

        And forgive me if I read the comment wrong, but where do you see that the commentator is already informed on the name's background (I'm not saying she's not). She states that she wants a particular Japanese name, From where do you infer that she's already done her research?

        5 agree
        • I inferred that the poster had some basic background information about the name precisely because she seems to be consulting "the internet for this stuff."

          However, you are correct in pointing out that she doesn't actualy state why she likes the name, and in your implication that I am reading too much into her background knowledge.

          I do stand behind the main point of my comment, though.

          1 agrees
          • I agree with you in some way, but I think your argument about diminishing the meaning of a name sort of misses the point. Will any Japanese people be directly harmed if a white women in America names her child Sakura? No, and I don't think that anyone here is arguing they will. What's at issue here is a fundamental issue of respect. A name is never just a name – it carries history, a language, a culture, possibly a religion, along with it. All names do. When somebody outside of the culture that spawned it wants to use a name, most people will not object. What we'll object to seeing a name that, to us, means something really important or special and being used blithely or because it "sounds nice" or is "exotic" or is picked because they associate it with a desireable stereotype. Yes, that is offensive. People should have a funamental respect for cultures that are not their own – and that includes respect for names. It is not a lot to ask of people that they do a little research.

            I think your point about meaning rubbed me the wrong way for that reason. A name is far more than its semantic meaning or spelling. It represents a whole lot more, and I hope you'd see that in these comments.

            4 agree
          • This is a reply to Ashley:

            You say: People should have a funamental respect for cultures that are not their own – and that includes respect for names. It is not a lot to ask of people that they do a little research.

            What is an "American" name? Or a Canadian one? The truth is that all of those names have originated from other (mostly Euorpean) cultures. And those names have originated from other, older cultures. I understand that using a Japanese name isn't quite the same thing, but it also isn't all that different.

            Also, the whole point of this post is that this person IS doing their research, and asking others' opinions. Mine is that, in this case, the name is acceptable. I don't see why my opinion should "rub you the wrong way" just because it's different from yours. Ultimately, the poster can read everyone's thoughts and decide what is best for HER child.

            I don't know why you think that I don't believe that a name is more than a semantic meaning or spelling. I would never name my child something that didn't have deep, personal meaning to me, and I don't think the commenter should either. I never implied she should choose the name arbitrarily or that I think the meaning of the name is unimportant.

            My main point was that I didn't think one of Nora's original suggestions would actually help the poster solve her dilemma, and that I didn't think naming her child something Japanese would automatically cause the name to lose meaning, just by virtue of the fact that she is NOT Japanese.

            If you feel I need to be "educated" through the comments, that's fine, but I would appreciate being able to post an opinion that is different from yours without feeling harshly judged for something I didn't even say.

            3 agree
          • Copycait: I wasn't implying that you are not educated in these matters. I was arguing that you were taking names at semantic value without looking further at why names are so values.

            You ask "what's really a (blank" name?" Well, it's not that hard. Sakura is a name in the Japanese language, that originated in Japan, that refers to an object that originated in Japan, etc. The roots of a Celtic name are traceable back to the Celtic tribes and their languages. What you are referring to is called "drift," not origination. They are two different things. The fact that names have drifted and become more widespread does not, by any means, remove their original cultural meaning.

            We have no clue why the OP is picking this name. Perhaps she lived in Japan for years and loves the culture. Perhaps she saw it in a book and just liked it. You have no clue more than I. And that you would never pick a name arbitrarily is, well, just you. My name was totally arbitrary when my father named me. Some people pick names off a tv show, others pick them off the top of their heads. Personal motive doesn't mean much here.

            Your argument came off as wrong to me because you made an argument for semantics only, which I think doesn't make much sense. I think its a degree of how much one has invested in their culture, often. It also has a lot to do with belonging to a group that suffered a great deal of marginalization. A white person taking an Asian name is not the same as a an Asian person using a white name. Because of the dynamic privilege issues involved. I don't see why you're feeling hardly judged when I simply pointed out that your were only expressing your own worldview and that people of other ethnicities, cultures and races would probably very strongly disagree with you. Being able to make an argument for semantics only is a privilege because it assumes cultural issues can be disregarded. Many people can't do that.

            6 agree
          • Ashley, I wasn't asking what's a (blank) name – my point was that AMERICAN and CANADIAN names all originate from other cultures. These countries are cultural mosaics, and there are not really names associated with "American" or "Canadian" culture the way there are names associated with Japanese or Celtic culture. Therefore, this entire continent tends to consider names that originated elsewhere.

            I feel harshly judged because you make statements that are rude or that ascribe opinions to me that are not mine.

            For example: "You ask "what's really a (blank" name?" Well, it's not that hard" (RUDE)

            For example: "I wasn't implying that you are not educated in these matters. I was arguing that you were taking names at semantic value without looking further at why names are so values." (You arrived at this conclusion from one short statement I made that was much too simple to have actually implied such a thought. You jumped to the conclusion that I think she doesn't need to look past the "surface definition" of the name, which I certainly never said. Rather than ASK me about it, you just announce to me and the rest of the world what I MUST have meant. I didn't mean that names have no value beyond the semantic, but you don't seem to care, as long as you get to be right.)

            In the end, I understand that other people may disagree with me. I'm totally OK with that. It would just be nice to have feel that my opinion holds value too, even if others' hold different opinions. Must be the Canadian in me.

            4 agree
      • Well, OP took the time to ask a random selection of mostly-white people what they thought of the matter. It seems valid to suggest they also take the time to ask the people who actually stand to be hurt by this action. I am not Japanese, therefore nothing is at stake for me, a reality that inevitably colours my opinion.

        But I do know that when it comes to folks borrowing elements of my own culture, it'd nice if they asked me first, not because my opinion represents my whole race or ethnicity, but because as a member of said ethnicity, my opinion is reflective of a broader array of cultural context.

        And I agree that the question itself is not an example of grab-bagging. In fact, I'm so happy that the OP took the time to ask at all.

        That doesn't take away from the fact that borrowing only elements of a culture that suit us, without ever having to take on the oppression people of colour face for using those exact same items, is, in fact, grab-bagging.

        @OP: I have a very direct way of speaking, and I hope nothing I said came off as an attack. I think that this is a cool discussion to have because it's something that's been weighing on me heavily as I think about names for my future children.

        6 agree
      • Agreed. If the poster has a Japanese or Japanese American friend that they are close to, asking might be appropriate. However, I'd be wary of asking an acquaintance unless you have had conversation about their culture before. And I have a feeling she would be hard pressed to find someone to admit, in a face to face conversation, that they would have a problem with what she wants to name her child.

        On a personal note, having been the recipient of questions that are variations of "Hey, you're [insert color], let me ask you…" I find speaking for "my people" irritating. Granted, mine tend to end up on more of the rude side of the spectrum, but I don't imagine that someone who is Japanese would be thrilled with the question if culture wasn't a typical topic of conversation. (Like a co-worker or fellow daycare parent or something….)

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        • Thank you Alyssa. This is perhaps a better-worded statement of the intent of my original comment. I wasn't trying to put down anyone's suggestion, I just thought it was one of those ideas that sounded common-sense, but maybe had some flaws.

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        • "And I have a feeling she would be hard pressed to find someone to admit, in a face to face conversation, that they would have a problem with what she wants to name her child."

          THIS. SO MUCH THIS.

          Especially if you're asking someone with a Japanese mindset wherein voicing displeasure or disagreement is a huge no-no. I'm living in Japan, married to a Japanese man, and only after knowing his family for a year did they start to correct my Japanese, and even then, only a little! Even my co-workers here, instead of saying "I don't like that idea" or "No, that's not possible" will instead say things like "Ee, maybe, I'll think about it" or will just do it anyway and be uncomfortable, just to avoid any negativity. So asking "Is X a bad idea?" might only make people uncomfortable.

          It's something I've encountered a lot of here – but maybe Japanese-Americans don't have that same mindset?

          2 agree
  7. I agree with those above that it would be acceptable to pick a name that's not from your own cultural background. But I would advise you to give some thought to choosing a name for your child that might remind you of/cause you "sickening feelings" about your ex. While the name itself is beautiful and I think it's fine to use, might it be kind of emotionally fraught?

    1 agrees
  8. I think I'm normally overly-sensitive about whether something might be cultural appropriation, but I don't think this qualifies, at least not in spirit.

    It is quite common for people of all cultures to consider names from other countries and cultures. For example, I'm Canadian but my children have Gaelic names. Although they're both "white", they're not even close to the same culture.

    In my opinion, it might be different if you were choosing a name that reflected a core religious idea or sacred cultural idea, but Sakura is a common name and the meaning of the name (cherry blossom) is not unique to Japan, although it is a common symbol used in Japanese art.

    I say go for it, guilt-free 🙂

    1 agrees
  9. If you like it, you should use it. If it gives you a sickening feeling, then maybe skip it. Lots of women are named after flowers, and this is not much different. Also, think of all the people you meet with Hebrew names who are not Jewish, or Arabic or Roman names. what about people with last names as first names, like MacKensie, who aren't Scottish. No one seens to mind. A person could go on and on and be super judgey or whatever about names, but you should give her a name that you love.

    10 agree
    • Note about the "Jewish" names: names from the Judeo-Christian biblical heritage are common property of billions of people (one-third, minimum).

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      • There are a lot of specifically Jewish names because we use the original Hebrew versions of names instead of the Romanized or Hellenized versions of them. E.g. Yakov instead of Jacob and Yishai instead of Isaiah. So yeah, we actually do have specifically Jewish names.

        1 agrees
    • Speaking as a Scottish person, although I can't speak for anyone else, the name MacKenzie as a first name (especially for girls) comes across as silly and grabby to me. It makes me wonder if they know that 'Mac' means 'son of'.

      Scottish surnames aren't patronimic anymore, but with surnames as first names coming across strange sometimes, Mc- and Mac- surnames as first names just look weird.

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      • 'Ben' means 'son of' in hebrew, and its a very common name. Words that become common names lose their original meaning over time and just become names.

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      • Allison is a surname-influenced misspelling of Alison which is a medieval French diminutive of Alice, ie alis + on. (Marion is another, formed in the same way). It hasn't got anything to do with the word son.

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  10. I don't think there's anything wrong with naming your child Sakura, especially if you really, really like that name and it has special meaning to you. I think many names that we consider "normal" have roots in other cultures that go way back. My name is French in origin but I can guarentee that very few people thought about that in the mid 80s/early 90s when it was super popular.

    I think cultural appropriation runs more about how you borrow from other cultures. Tuesday Taco Night isn't appropriation* but dressing in a sombrero and fake mustache for Halloween is.

    *At least I hope it isn't. I'd hate to feel guilty about my favorite food group.

    18 agree
  11. I think that you can name your child whatever you like as long as it is with love.

    I thought about your question by flipping it around a couple of ways.

    Is it appropriation if I choose to give my half-German half-Chinese child an Italian name like Filomena meaning "beloved".

    Is it inappropriate if I choose to skip giving my child a Chinese name?

    Is it inappropriate if I want to name my child after video game characters, whose names are German like, but one of the characters becomes evil?

    The answer I came up with is, as long as I name my children with love and will tell all about how I chose their name as they grow up, I can choose whatever works for me and my partner.

    Hope this gives you support and encouragement 🙂

    1 agrees
    • I agree with you! I was wondering if there would be this much debate if it was a Japanese mother questioning naming her child something European. I think it's to be sensitive to issues like this, but I think some of these commenters may be over-thinking things.

      1 agrees
      • It is different. It is always different if a white person borrows from a minority culture, or if it happens in reverse. It is different if a woman uses something typically male, or the reverse happens. There are power differences inherent in our race, class, gender, ability, sexual orientation, etc that are what differentiate borrowing from appropriation.

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        • I think you'd be hard pushed to show that Asian is a minority culture vs "white" globally speaking.

          1 agrees
  12. I don't think it's cultural appropriation, but I wouldn't do it.

    A person's name tells the world about their parents, family, history…and let's be real, sometimes it tells us things the parents didn't intend. I'll be the bitch who admits it, but when I meet a Mykylee at the park, I'm thinking something very different than what those parents intended. And if I were to meet little white Sakura at the park with her white parents, my thought would probably be a big fat "huh???"

    8 agree
    • I kind of have to agree to a point. I dated a man who's very white daughters were named with extremely stereotypically black-american names (think like Shaniqua) and it was pretty wierd. Especially living in a predominantly caucasian city. One of them wound up begging to be called by her middle name.

      It's hard to figure out why it's wierd. It's not like the names bother me but it does have a scent of trying-to-be-something-its-not. Or does-not-match/does-not-compute. Humans like to categorise things.

      At the end of the day though I don't think it's offensive in any way and if it makes you happy I say go for it.

      1 agrees
      • Ah! I thought I was the only one! My white parents gave me a stereotypical African American name. I changed it when I was 25, because it was not reflective of who I am, my background and other people's reactions to a white chick responding to that name.

        I grew up with having teachers call my name then looking surprised when I answered (and getting accused of lying). I've been accused of making the name up and being racist at Starbucks for using my original name. The moment that finalized my decision to change was when I walked into a job interview at an African American history center and it was really obvious they weren't expecting someone white.

        2 agree
        • As a child who was given a "unique" name, I FUCKING HATED IT.

          My parents originally named me something stupid, ridiculous and pedantic because they thought it was "artsy" and "fun".

          NOT that the name the OP has selected is any of those things, this is just my perspective on having a "unique" name".

          I grew up hating my name and having to deal with constant questions and comments, most of which got old after 2nd grade. I eventually just said screw it and people call me by my 2nd middle name (long story).

          My advice is if you love the name, go for it, but also remember that your child may not grow up to be the person you see fitting that name. Let them shape their own identity and allow yourself to be comfortable with the fact that they might not like the name you've chosen.

          1 agrees
    • I'm Korean/Japanese and I would assume, "Great. Weeaboo parents." Sorry if that's harsh but encountering so many people that fetishize Asian culture and girls over the years has made me pretty cynical on the whole topic. I definitely know that there is a difference between appreciating a culture and appropriating/fetishizing it. For me I feel like that means that appreciating doesn't involve using it for your own benefit.

      20 agree
  13. Personally, I think 'Sakura' is a little more ok than say, Fujiko or Kaneko, as the word has permeated western culture. I personally want to name our children in honor of their heiritage (either specific people or our cultural backgrounds.) If that name means something to you, who am I to judge? I would most likely be judgey IRL if I met a white couple with a white child named for a culture they have no connection with – but you're not naming your baby for me, or for anyone else who would feel that way.

    1 agrees
    • This makes me think about all the Chinese adoptees I know with names like Susan or Grace or Faith, when they had been given a traditional Chinese name, and yet nobody questions that. Names are so interesting that way.

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    • "you're not naming your baby for me, or for anyone else who would feel that way."

      True, but for the sake of the person who will carry this name with them for their entire life, I would hope you would be naming your child for THEM, and not you–which means at least to some extent you need to consider the reaction that everyone else will have when they hear that name, because that's what that child will have to deal with their whole life.

      I love that such thought is put into naming, and I personally love my own unique name (it is not common but also not unheard of)… but when parents chose names for their children that are so radical/ unexpected/off the wall it just makes me think they are so full of themselves they chose the name as an intended reflection of their OWN awesomely special unique qualities, instead of thinking about how it would affect their child.

      Just one more thing for the OP to consider, aside from all the debate about cultural appreciation vs. appropriation… although the name Sakura itself is beautiful and actually has a pretty meaning (cherry blossom), do most Americans–likely most people your daughter will meet–know this? The first thing I think of is Japanese chain restaurants, since so many are named with this. I'm not the only one, as a quick google search showed me all the top results were Japanese steak & seafood joints. You need to be okay with this connotation, and if you're not… time to think of something else. Good luck.

      5 agree
  14. What a fascinating discussion in culture and society and race! Because it's not just as simple as "I want to name my child X." There's the issue of what race you are, where you live in the world…even within the country you reside. So I'm glad you are not thinking about this as someone who lives in a vacuum.

    *Can* you name your child whatever you want? Sure! Is that what is best for them? Maybe not! Is there the possibility that they will change their name to whatever the heck they want when they're older? For sure!

    2 agree
  15. Before you use a name that might be uncommon in your community, ask several people how they would pronounce it. Then consider how you feel about their pronunciation. I work in a very multi-cultural office, and so many names are mispronounced on a regular basis, even after corrections. Then there people who just went with the common pronunciation without giving a correction. Are you okay with other people's pronunciations? Are you okay with providing you're preferred pronunciation on a regular basis (even knowing that some people won't pick it up)?

    1 agrees
    • Ah, yes, thank you for pointing out the pronunciation part. There was a comedian who said something to the effect that you should take your selected name to a group of 9 year old boys and have them say it over and over to get their input. If they giggle, it might be because it sounds dirty. The comedian said, "I had a friend named Andrew Peacock, which doesn't sound bad until you realized that his nickname was Drew. Drew Peacock. Drooopeeecock."

      2 agree
  16. If you name this child Sakura will you always think it should have been the name for your firstborn?

    Will this child be trying to ever live up to that firs child, because they really have "their" name?

    If you tell them the story of how you picked out the name, will you be able to do it in good conscience, without feeling like you have to hide the ex-husband didn't like it for older daughter Evelynn bit?

    Those are the questions I think of when I read your post. Names are powerful.

    • I agree so much with this.

      Ultimately I don't think what you name your child matters as much as comfortably being able to explain why you chose the name you did, especially if it is a little different, and even more so if it is in a different style to that of a sibling.

      2 agree
    • Came here to say these exact things. You said it better. At this point, I think Sakura is a lovely name… for a cat in that household. Maybe a koi.

      It is not worth it to use the name and potentially cause a terrible lifelong dynamic between your children. Not to mention, thoughts and associations of the ex being dragged in to this child who is not his? Ewwwwww. Somehow that just squicks me out.

      4 agree
  17. In the strict sense of appropriative action, yes. You may be. But, your intention isn't to take it "cause it's all pretty and stuff". You have a deep connection to the name which should not be discounted.

    I would try to see what's drawing you to the name and go from there. If it's the sound of it, then see what other similar options there may be which would feel less "icky" and see if they fit. If it's the meaning, find other names which have the same meaning from cultures more "close to home" and go with that.

    At the end of it, if the only thing that seems to fit your vision is Sakura, you're not doing anyone a disservice. People will judge no matter the name of the child. What's important is the meaning to you and your SO.

    1 agrees
  18. Such an interesting (and tricky!) discussion.

    To be honest, I don't know. I do know that times change, and as the world diversifies, the lines between cultures (especially when it comes to things like names) get increasingly blurred. When I was born and my parents named me Rachel, my great-grandmother was upset that they had given me what she considered to be a "Jewish name". Not because she had anything against people who were Jewish, but simply because she found it inappropriate for me to have a name that was from outside my culture (of course, Rachel is also in the Bible, so one could argue it's a name that fits many cultures, but when my great-grandmother was young, it was considered distinctly Jewish).

    My sister's name is Erica, which is a Norse/Scandinavian/German name, despite the fact that our family does not possess any of that heritage (we're Irish, originally). Despite that, I don't think it would ever cross anyone's mind to consider it inappropriate for her to be named Erica.

    So yes, it's tricky. Is it only inappropriate to borrow from certain cultures, or in certain ways? Is it more appropriate if the name was appropriated a long time ago, and has since been integrated into the culture where you're from? I really don't know.

    7 agree
  19. So, my (mexican) Mom always get's annoyed when Mexican Americans give their children "white" names, and I always just have to roll my eyes at her! We shouldn't limit ourselves because of what culture we are born in. There is so much beauty in the world, and we should all have access to it!

  20. Incidentally, if you find yourself unable to name your second child "Sakura" for any reason, you could use this to be a pet name or term of affection for her.

    2 agree
  21. This might be an unpopular answer, but I would say that it is a bit appropriative, if we look at the definition of appropriation as the use of cultural behaviors/artifacts of a subjugated minority culture by the dominant culture. Of course, if we define appropriation simply as an exchange of culture, then yeah go for it. But I don't think that's how we're defining it. Appropriation is tricky, to be sure, and very complicated. I'm no expert, but I think that as a white couple taking a Japanese name, it is appropriative.

    I agree with Nora, it's important when thinking about using things outside your culture to ask yourself, how does my privilege as a white person play into this? By using this name (or getting this tattoo, or wearing this costume, or using this as a theme at my wedding), does it affect the original culture negatively?

    Final word– I think it would be unfortunate to talk about this issue from an individualist point of view– as all of us as individuals exchanging ideas in a bubble without power dynamics. Remember, this issue comes from unequal power dynamics: a dominant culture taking from a minority culture. So I think a white person using a Japanese name is the same as a white person using a French name. Totally different power dynamics between those two scenarios.

    And I think this conversation confused the cultural exchanges between ethnicities and races. Because I know, race is a social construct, but it has real life consequences for minorities that are actually different from ethnic consequences. So… keep that in mind.

    Long story short, yes, I think it's appropriative. But who am I to tell you what to do? It's really up to you. I wish you all the best.

    6 agree
  22. My husband and I come from two different cultures, but some of the names we considered were not from either of our cultures, but names from European countries my family has no ties to. I don't think anyone would object to giving a half European child an Irish name, even if the child was not of Irish descent, for instance.

    It's probably more important to make sure your name choice doesn't disrespect any traditions of your culture or the culture it was adopted from. Making sure the name is properly pronounced and used is important, as well as making sure it's not rude to use for any reason. For instance, in my husband's culture, naming a child after a relative isn't ok, so I chose not to use a name I had in mind for the baby. We also enlisted family help in choosing an appropriate Chinese name, because I felt I would be incapable of making an appropriate choice alone.

    From what I can tell, Sakura is a perfectly common Japanese name and there should not be any issues with its use. It wouldn't hurt to ask a Japanese friend for an opinion, but it seems like a rather safe choice. You could also do some brief research on Japanese naming practices on your own.

    My husband is of Asian birth and was raised in a Chinese speaking household, but he has a common English legal name as well as a Chinese name. Many people who aren't from English speaking households have English names. It never occurred to me to be offended that my husband's parents chose an English name for him. I don't feel I have any special ownership of those names, and, as long as they're used appropriately, I think it's fine if other people like and choose them.

    1 agrees
  23. That depends on if you appreciate the culture 🙂

    A name does not have to represent the culture from which the person who bears it hails from, but I think in this case it does – America is a melting pot. I have a Japanese friend (born there, immigrated when he was young) named John whose only issue with his name is the fact that he was one of six in the same class at school.

    Some people will love it, some hate it, but it's your decision and that's how it should be.

    1 agrees
  24. We considered giving our daughter a Bhutanese name (she was conceived there!), but couldn't settle on one. My husband was big on some Arabic names (we're actually Jewish), but I was less keen on the ones he chose!

    The thing about names an cultural appropriation is that should have to 'justify' their reason for naming a child with a name from a culture other than theirs. If other people want to be judgemental, that's their problem.

  25. I see a lot of false equivalences in this discussion.

    A Chinese American naming their child a European/American name is not the same as a White American naming their child a Chinese name, etc, not when people of colour face racism, prejudice, erasure, invisibility, disenfranchisment, and marginalisation on a daily basis, and white people hold mass institutional privileges as a direct result of those oppressions.

    An American of German descent giving their child a name from another European (read: white) country is not the same as an American giving their name a child from a culture that's been actively oppressed by Europeans and Americans for centuries. 'Aiden' does not equal 'Sakura.' (For one, *most* white names have transcended their original cultural context because of colonisation, white supremacy, slavery, prejudice, etc).

    Finally, cultural diffusion, the natural blending of cultures because of proximity and trade, is not the same as consciously and knowingly taking something from another culture, especially when one may have power over said other culture.

    The world is not going to explode because of one little white girl named Sakura, obviously. There are plenty of white American children that already have the name, I'm sure. It's very beautiful. But, in discussing this question, about whether or not it's appropriative, let's remember that some of these things are not like the other.

    13 agree
    • But then I guess the questions is – at what point do we consider a culture to have reached a point where they're 'dominant' enough that it's acceptable for their traditions or names to be appropriated?

      Don't get me wrong, I'm not challenging your points – I think they're very valid, but it's also important to remember that the definition of 'white' or 'dominant' has not been static and unchanging over time. It was in fact a fairly recent development in the grand scheme of history that certain populations (like the Irish and Eastern Europeans) were considered 'white'. Most people wouldn't hesitate to use names from those cultures now, even if their own cultural heritage is one that historically oppressed those populations, and most people wouldn't consider that cultural appropriation because those groups are now considered dominant, but that hasn't always been the case.

      Again, I really do agree with what you're saying, but at the same time, I think it's a really complex issue – in 2012, as a Canadian of Irish descent, I have a huge amount of white privilege that I'm very conscious of, but my relatives who first immigrated here a few generations ago would not have been considered privileged or dominant in the same way.

      I don't think I'm explaining this very well, but hopefully it made some sense 🙂

      1 agrees
      • It is an interesting question. I'm sure people have studied it extensively (there was one popular book a few years ago about how Italians in the US came to be considered as "white," sadly I don't recall the title).

        In the case of Japanese culture and the US, though- we're still in living memory of a time when our government rounded up and jailed people of Japanese descent. So, I think we're still on the side of the line where it's appropriation of a minority culture by a dominant one.

        3 agree
        • this whole sub-thread hit every point I would have wanted to make, but wouldn't have done so as eloquently. I wanted to "This!" these harder, but couldn't.

          When you think about what will run through the mind of a Japanese person when you introduce them to your child, don't just think of the Japanese people in your immediate social network, think about the ones that lived in Manzanar or Poston. Put yourself in their shoes, and imagine how they may feel about this. They are the ones who were first treated like criminals for having been born Japanese, and who are now having to watch their culture become "cool" among younger Americans who don't know the firs thing about that ugly part of our history.

          19 agree
    • To clarify matters, my husband isn't a Chinese American, but a recent immigrant who may, in fact, never choose to be an American at all. In his own country, he came from the majority race and the majority culture and enjoyed the same privileges I do here. They weren't exactly conforming to the dominant culture by choosing his name. They come from the dominant culture in their part of the world.

      As part of a culturally and racially diverse family, I often find I'm more sensitive about these issues than my relatives who aren't of European descent. It is important to remember that, while minority groups might have a history of being oppressed and disenfranchised here, their position may be very different in a different part of the world and they often don't see themselves as victims. We should be sensitive to past wrongs, yes. However, I'd venture to suggest that most Japanese people, including Japanese Americans, are proud of their culture and think it's cool when other people take an interest in it. Of course it needs to be done respectfully. No one likes their cultural heritage treated flippantly or horribly butchered. I see cases of that all of the time, especially where religious practices and imagery are used, and they are completely offensive. However, carefully naming a child after thought and research is hardly the same thing.

      1 agrees
  26. If you name your child Sakura and in the future you have occasion to introduce her to someone new who is Japanese, will you feel awkward or self conscious about it? And likewise what might it be like for her in school and later in life when she introduces herself to people? Maybe she'll love the name, maybe she'll find it to be an annoyance to have explain to everyone who will inevitably ask about it. As someone pointed out already names are quite powerful. I fully believe they help shape who we become and how people view us initially. I just had a son and spent my entire pregnancy agonizing over a name because I did not want anything that was overly common or trendy, but was concerned about the life long implications of any name we would eventually settle on. You may give your child a name, but they have to live with it.

    I love the idea of Sakura as a name, but wouldn't be able to use it as a first name. Despite all that though, I don't think I'd have a problem using it as a middle name.

    7 agree
  27. I have read through most of these comments and while they all make valid points I tend to disagree with most. It is not necessarily that I am apathetic towards culture however I think that naming a child should go well beyond that. Naming a child is something that sticks with you forever. Your child will live with the name forever and so will you. I truly believe that the naming of a child should come down to what you want, what your partner wants and whether or not you feel the name fits your child. Honestly when I hear a name I don't attribute it to race or culture I attribute it to what the parents are trying to say with the meaning.

    My sons name is biblical and a name of Hebrew descent. His father his Hispanic and I am Irish. I did not take into count where the name came from when it was chosen, I took into count it's special meaning to us.

    3 agree
    • I think this is a difference of opinion, and maybe, a difference in closeness to culture. I was raised Irish, but I was raised very much in the immigrant Celtic community – people who still speak Gaelie as their first language and are deeply rooted to the homeland. Meanings of names, for us, are deeply entrenched to our history. If you name your son Kenneth, you'd better be ready to tell him about Kenneth MacAlpin when he's old enough. A boy named Bruce will know about the House of Bruce and his history. All the Michaels learn about Michael Collins (among others). Aidens all know about Aidan of Lindisfarne.

      I'm not saying this to say "hey, I'm more Irish than you." Certainly not. But many people with your same ancestry do link our names to our culture and want to maintain that history. Your preference is your own, but its not universal.

      4 agree
      • This ignores the fact, though, that many of these names have a history outside of the Celtic community, now.

        My ancestors are Irish, and my husband's are Scottish, but we don't identify this way because we are Canadian. However, those naming traditions are part of our family heritage, and we honour that when we chose Celtic names. My father is named Kenneth, and that is my son's middle name. I have no idea who Kenneth MacAlpin is.

        The issue with language and naming is that it's fluid, and over time, something that begins as belonging to one culture or language becomes something else. I don't think that's necessarily bad, and I don't think it can be avoided.

        Surely, my ancestors who emigrated to Canada had a right to use their cultural names, and their descendants have a right to honour those family names, even if we no longer identify with that original culture.

        I don't mean for my comments to be disrespectful to your opinions (we also had a difference of opinion elsewhere, which is why I want to be careful to say that I understand your point of view, and I don't mean to say that you're wrong and I'm right when I disagree with you – just that I have different ideas).

        2 agree
        • I never argued that people who have drifted from the culture should be prevented from using cultural names. However, what you're discussing is a privleged position. Very often, those who hold tightest to their culture are those who experience marginalization or mistreatment (like many Celtic people today still struggle with, especially in certain places). Most of the most culturally aware people I know are people who were ostracized for their ethnicity or background (I mean overall, not just talking about my own community here). And this doesn't really change my point that if you are going to go outside your own culture, you owe a degree of respect to the culture you're taking from. Many Celts name their sons Kenneth because the name DOES represent a major stone in Celtic history, whether you personally are aware of it or not. And I don't see an argument here that people outside the culture don't have a duty to respect that.

          (Just to say – he was the first king of scotland who recovered St. Columba's relics). So it's an especially big name among Scottish people.

          1 agrees
          • "And this doesn't really change my point that if you are going to go outside your own culture, you owe a degree of respect to the culture you're taking from."

            I agree with this.

            1 agrees
          • Celtic people suffer from marginalization?

            Forgive me as someone who's Welsh and lives in England (and if anywhere doesn't like 'Celtic' people it's England), the most I have experienced of marginalization, is when England are playing Football or Rugby. Or possibly when people from the rest of the world interchangeably use 'England' and 'Britain' without realizing the difference. So where precisely are 'Celtic' people being marginalized?

            1 agrees
    • My interpretation of tokenizing is more that is has to do with a desire to deflect accusations of racism, without having to directly address/acknowledge/confront racist behavior. Based on my interpretation of the original poster's words, it seemed like she had a strong attachment to the name itself, and not much of an agenda with regards to its cultural connotations. I would really appreciate hearing how you (or others) think it moves beyond cultural appropriation into the range of tokenism (honest question here–not trying to be confrontational).

      7 agree
  28. I have a fairly ordinary name but because my mother decided to spell it differently I ended up having to spell it for everyone, all the time. Sometimes I was so proud of my name because it was different but just as often I was annoyed with it. My driver's license had to be corrected twice.

    OP consider where you're probably be living. Will you be surrounded by supportive slightly offbeat folks? Will you be able to explain the origin of your child's name at every turn? Are you ok with the answers you plan to give? Are you ready to give your baby a name she'll spend a good chunk of her life explaining to other people?

    Mind you, this is all less of a thing than it was when I was a kid but it's still something to think about.

    How have your relatives reacted to the name? Supported, so-so, or hostile?

    4 agree
  29. Hmm…interesting question! I am somewhat sensitive to this one, because I speak Japanese. If you are worried about people thinking your child is strange because her name is Japanese and she is obviously of European descent, I wouldn't worry about that at all. Most of this kids in my class call me Yuki(because of the whole speaking Japanese thing), and people do not even give me a second look. さくら makes a little more sense if you speak Japanese, but even if you don't, there is nothing wrong with naming your daughter that. Also, it's a very popular name, so I think there will not be any pronunciation issues. On the other hand, if you are worried about cultural sensitivity, there are no Japanese rules that say you can't name you child さくら. She will not be shunned by Japanese people or anything. The only problem I can think of is that assuming you like in America, people will probably associate her with the Naruto character for her entire life, which might get irritating. But other than that, なん なまえ だいじょうぶ ね. そして, あかちゃん おめでとう ね!

    6 agree
  30. Sakura is a lovely name. I would advise caution when naming a second child the name you had picked out for your first. My mother had picked out the name Melissa for a daughter. When I was born, and placed in NICU, I was given a different name. My younger sister was named Melissa. This has caused so many hurt feelings on both sides over the years that neither of us uses the name; my sister had her first name legally changed. Please think about how that might affect any sibling relationship, should you ever share the story with your children.

    14 agree
  31. I haven't seen anyone mention this so I would like to suggest you take a look through http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com

    My take-away is what, specifically, about "Sakura" appeals to you? Is it purely phonetic appreciation? Does Japanese culture represent something specific to you? (Have you ever seen SNL's "America J-Pop Fun Time Now"?)

    I remember thinking about my name a lot, and what it meant about me and who I was. What would you daughter think "Sakura" says about her?

    5 agree
  32. I think this is a valid question. I live in Hawaii, where I've met white people with Hawaiian names, Filipino people with Chinese names, Korean people with "christian" names, etc. I'm sure there are people who see this as cultural appropriation (esp. full caucasian with Hawaiian names)And, yes, names have very strong meaning to some people. And, yes, we all have our own rules for how and why we chose them. I'll be honest, I chose my sons name because it sounded pretty and I thought it would age well. His middle names carry the history, and that's how my husband and I chose to name him.
    I think you should name your child whatever you damn well please, and, frankly, no one's opinion should hold more weight than yours and your partners'.

    4 agree
    • Totally this — my very white child (who is around 20% Hawaiian) has a Hawaiian middle name & our last name is Hawaiian since it's on my husband's side. Our kid doesn't look very Hawaiian, but he does carry Hawaiian in him, and more than that it was important to us to include that part of his heritage in his name.

      4 agree
  33. In my opinion, the whole concept of "cultural appropriation" is kind of muddy. The way I take it is, why not celebrate other cultures in whatever way you choose: naming your daughter with a foreign name, honoring Dia De Los Muertos, etc. I play the ukulele, and many people consider that appropriation of Hawaiian culture, but I do it because I love it and think the ukulele is a beautiful instrument. From my point of view, "cultural appropriation" only takes on an ugly meaning when it is done in a trashy, hateful, or mocking way.

    9 agree
    • I understand where you are coming from but the definition of cultural appropriation doesn't originate with the 'taker' but with the culture being appropriated from. Otherwise, that still makes it about the appropriator and not the culture.

      There definitely is a great amount of cultural assimilation in our country (versus cultural appropriation) and it is a fine line. It really depends so much on context and situation; however, assimilation is usually at the behest of the 'smaller' or more marginalized culture.

      I really do suggest taking a look at http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com

      1 agrees
  34. Don't ask the internet a question about cultural appropriation! Seriously, i wouldn't ask the internet, this is one of those things where the internet is likely to have really different answers from the world, especially regarding the whole ultra-liberal bullying thing.

    I have a half-japanese friend named Sakura and it seems like an awesome name- that said, its not a terrible idea to run the concept by some japanese people and see what they think of it, if you can find any- who aren't on the internet. The internet is the worst place to ask certain kinds of questions.

    13 agree
  35. The initial big question aside; the one thing I do love is that if Laura hadn't posted this question and just sent in a picture to Monday Montage of lovely white, American Sakura, I don't think many people here would even blink. If I thought anything of it, I'd assume that her parents had a connection to Japan and liked the name…and then I'd move on to cooing over how cute she is.
    Because that's how Offbeat Families rolls.

    1 agrees
  36. Something I haven't seen in here is the idea of sibling name styles. If your older child is Evelynn, you often see names like Sophia or Abigail for a younger sister, not Sakura. A style mismatch might not matter to you/your partner/your daughters at all, but may be worth considering, especially in the case of a blended family. I wonder if it might feel at all awkward for the older child to know that the "dream name" was considered for her, but ultimately given to her younger sibling?

    1 agrees
  37. It's a fascinating topic!

    Personally, I think it depends on the situation as to whether it's appropriation or not. If the name had great significance in Japanese culture and the parents had no ties to Japan, then it might well be a different matter. Given the specific name Sakura, I see no problem with it. It may well be somewhat approrpiative, depending on the reasons for wanting the name, but in this circumstance I see no issue given how common the name is.

    It would be different again if it were a common name from a highly marginalised culture. Where I live, for example, the local indigenous people have what I consider a beautiful language. Unfortunately it's an "extinct" language, in that there is no longer anybody who speaks it as a first language. There's a wonderful group of elders, other community members and linguists who are attempting to revive the language. In one way, I would LOVE to give a child of mine a name from this language. Even though I'm not part of the cultural group, the language is tied to the land where I grew up. I've done some significant study of the language, and it has real meaning to me. However, I couldn't in good conscience do it – even if the elders okayed it. In this case, these people have so little of their ancestral culture available to them that the language is incredibly important. Even though it means more to me than just "sounding pretty", it wouldn't seem right.

    Edit: Just thought I'd add, my partner's name is definitely a case of cultural appropriation in my view. It's an Indigenous word that his parents read in a newspaper and loved. More than 20 years later, whilst I was studying linguistics, I did some research into it. Turns out that the pronunciation, origin AND meaning that they'd told him it had were all wrong. It comes from a place more than 2000km from where they thought it did, the initial sound and the emphasis are both different, and it's the name of a language group – not just an endearing term like they thought.

  38. As a very Caucasian-looking hapa (Japanese/White) woman with a Japanese first name, I would advise picking a name that is more cross-cultural and palatable to the general American public than Sakura. I find it difficult getting asked "what are you?", "where are you from?" roughly every other week, depending on what part of the country I'm in. I wind up using my American-sounding middle name (Jesssica) in a lot of situations because it's easier to pronounce/spell and you don't have to provide a full background story of why your race and name origin don't appear to match. If you have your heart set on a Japanese name there are a lot of lovely options that might sound a bit more 'normal' to the American ear and are more racially ambiguous (Hana, Naomi, Reina, Emi, Mika, etc.).

    On another note, I think that cultural appropriation is a very tricky subject, particularly for Japanese-Americans given the history of internment in WWII and subsequent pressure to "fit-in" and be "American" (and thus avoid Japanese names). As a descendant of internees, awareness of the potential danger of being "other" is something I still carry with me–I pause and think before checking off race boxes on government forms. I have had my parents' partiotism questioned for giving me my name by veterans who witnessed the horrors of the Pacific theater. That being said, I think that broader integration of Japanese culture into the American mainstream is not a bad thing (and heck if there were a lot more white Sakuras running around my name would probably not be as much of an issue!). I would urge the original poster to consider that the person who will ultimately carry the burden of explanation and a need for extra cultural sensitivity will be her daughter.

    • Yes. In addition to other issues would be to consider your daughter constantly being asked if she's Japanese including the always lovely "So, which half?" that some of my mixed-ethnicity friends have received. I am frequently asked about my background.

      Today, someone looked at me, pointed, and said, "Polish or Russian?" I'm neither nor is anyone in my family from anywhere remotely Central or Eastern European. This type of thing happens more often than I could write off as a few oddballs. It's not that the backgrounds they guess are insulting in some way but just deciding this is something to ask a total stranger about always leaves me annoyed. While my parents didn't choose my appearance like you can pick out a name, it's worth considering.

      2 agree
  39. My son's middle name is that of a Mayan-named town in Central America, a place my partner and I love, a place important to the evolution of our loves and lives together. When I meet people from the region surrounding the town, I usually tell them about it and they have so far been not just accepting but *delighted.* They want to know all about why a porcelain-pale Eastern European Jewish/Irish/Native-American/English American kid would have that name. They're excited to find something of their place and culture up here in the Northern, pale hinterlands. (Demographically, the people I've talked with about it have been probably 75% women in their 30s/40s, maybe that has something to do with their reactions.)

    These issues can be so hard. Mainstream American culture *is* cultural appropriation. I come from a ridiculously privileged group of people: white-looking, secure middle-class, American, access to education and health care. But I'm not sure exactly when I and my people became the Oppressor class, or what I should do about the fact that some of my ancestors were responsible for attempting to kill off and subjugate the other bloodlines. I'm also aware that if I stripped out the cultural appropriation of I, my immediate culture/religion/pop culture/art environment, my antecedents, etc., there would be nothing left at all. My white Euro ancestors sure as heck didn't invent writing. Should I not be typing this, seeing as how I'm not of Sumerian, Chinese, Zapotec, or Egyptian extraction?

    The fact that Nora, above, believes it's fine for anybody to name their child Aiden shows how far things have come since the days when my great-greats were being raped, starved, having all their land stolen, and forced onto coffin ships headed for America. Naming a child of non-Irish descent Aiden would not have happened just one or two generations ago. It's a sign that the Irish are accepted in our culture now. In that view, maybe it's a good thing for people to appropriate words from each other's heritages.

    But it might have sucked to be that first non-Irish boy in America to carry the name Aiden around!

    8 agree
  40. This is very interesting to me! My husband wanted to name a son Ashitaka, after a character in Princess Monoke. He loved what the character stood for and according to Wikipedia its meaning has to do with unity. I was completely against it, as I felt naming your child after an anime character was akin to getting a kanji tattoo you can't read. I also felt it would be cultural appropriation. By the time we had our son, years later, my father had recently died and we named him after his Hebrew name: Levi, which coincidentally means to unite.

    1 agrees
  41. I've actually done exactly that. Our baby was conceived shortly after we returned from three years in Japan, and I wanted to reflect this experience in her name. I did however put the Japanese name as her middle name. Later, she can decide for herself which name to use. My husband had issues about mispronunciation and misspellings of her name, or that she could be made fun of. But he was fine with using it as a middle name.

    3 agree
  42. I actually did exactly that. Our baby was conceived shortly after we returned from three years in Japan, and I wanted to reflect this experience in her name. I did however put the Japanese name as her middle name. Later, she can decide for herself which name to use. My husband had issues about mispronunciation and misspellings of her name, or that she could be made fun of. But he was fine with using it as a middle name.

  43. I'm a bit of a name nerd, so I am finding the comments really interesting. My name is Kathleen (Anglicised Irish which was originally taken from a Greek name) Lisa (taken from the Greek 'Elizabeth' with was a translation of a Hebrew name) Hannah (Aramaic transliterated into Hebrew) and I'm an English/European mix.

    Names come, go and change with time. They are constantly being adopted and adapted by other cultures. Whether they come from literature, the bible, family or the internet, a name is going to have history. Sakura is a beautiful name, and comes from a beautiful culture. One day your daughter may enjoy researching that culture and the history of her name, which will be far more interesting than if her name was Jane (incidentally my MIL's middle name, which she goes by as her parents were forced to name her Heather by their parents, though neither of them liked it).

    We named our daughter Aurora Eowyn, and we are neither Ancient Roman nor from Middle Earth. My husband does not even like LOTR (sacrilege, I KNOW), and we call her Rory for short, though she is not male and we are not Irish. Frankly, a name is what you make of it. If you love it, and that is why you use it, than it is right. I like mine, I love the name we gave our daughter and I wouldn't have it any other way.

    4 agree
    • Aren't the "Rohirric" names actually Anglo-Saxon? Btw, your daughter has the coolest name ever, including the nickname Rory which makes me think of Rory Williams Pond.

      2 agree
      • Yep, you are so right on that!
        We named her Eowyn primarily for my father – Owen, and my husband loved it because my MILs family comes from Wales, so a part of my brain thinks of it as Welsh even though its not. I think I had a brain spasm when I put Middle Earth – thats sleep deprivation for you! Bad boo boo for a name nerd and Tolkien fan – Ha! Thanks for picking up on it. 🙂
        PS – I think my daughter has the coolest name ever too, and I'm not really sure how we are going to match it if we have a second! I do love the amount of nerdy references I managed to slip into her name though, 'Aurora' being the name of the 'Aurora-class' Ancient warship in Stargate Atlantis. My very 'on-beat' husband need never know!

  44. I think you should name your child whatever you like. I understand where some of the people are coming from when they say they ended up changing their names because of something like this, but that's not something you can anticipate. And having an unusual name isn't the only thing that makes people change their names. One of my friends changed from Ashley to Danielle. I think Sakura is beautiful and although it definitely originates in Japanese culture I don't think of it as being exclusively Japanese. At my university we have a large grove of Sakura blossoms and they're amazing. Every spring you can't walk through them without tripping over students.

    People can get so judgy when it comes to other people's children. Whenever I find myself thinking "why on earth would they name their child that?" I remind myself that quite frankly that is none of my business. I have a long list of unusual names I want and I don't plan on being particularly nice to people that get snotty about it. They have meaning to me and that's all that really matter.

    4 agree
  45. for what it's worth, i'm not getting a lot of judginess out of comments here, Alana; i think the poster was less concerned about Sakura being "unusual" than it being from a different culture, some of whose members might feel ownership over the word, and if the poster is from an "oppressor" class/race, then she might feel some responsibility in that regard.

    i think it's also hard for those of us who are considered oppressor class to think that we are basically not "allowed' in educated, liberal enclaves to protect and hang onto our own backgrounds and language, but we need to tread carefully when it comes to appropriating the culture of others who might be considered oppressed.

    this thread has been interesting and enlightening to me partly because my brain just doesn;t have a construct of thinking of the Japanese as oppressed. some of this stuff is generational. in my milieu, Japan is considered enviable, contemporary, postmodern, high tech, amazing food, fantastic fashions. yet our grandparents and great-grandparents invented the atomic bomb and dropped it on the grandparents and great-grandparents of the people we think are so cool.

    1 agrees
  46. The question for me is what are you going to say when people ask why you picked that name. Because people WILL ask that–it's a relatively uncommon name in the US, and especially uncommon for people who are not of Asian descent.

    So when someone says, "That's such a lovely name–how did you pick it?" what's your answer going to be? If it's "I read it in a book once and it sounded pretty" then yeah, that smacks of cultural appropriation to me–using an element of culture that's not personally meaningful to you on anything but a shallow aesthetic level. If your answer is "It's meaningful to me because x y and z" (spent ten years living in Japan? knew someone named Sakura you wanted to honor?) then I don't think of that as problematic in the same way.

    2 agree
    • The answer could be, "Sakura is a beautiful word that means 'cherry blossom' in Japanese. We are not of Japanese descent but chose this name for our own reasons."

      Back to Aiden. What would we say if I harassed a person of, say, Chinese extraction who named their child Aiden. "Why did you name your child after the Celtic sun-god? That's MY god! Hands off!" ?

      2 agree
      • If you felt deep meaningful personal ties to the Celtic sun-god, I wouldn't be surprised if you were very annoyed by the masses of people who name their children Aiden without any awareness of the history or culture attached to it.

        The difference is that many people of Japanese descent in the US have to struggle to maintain their culture. If you have a dozen zucchini vines in your front yard you probably wouldn't mind if someone passing by takes one with them, and may in fact put up a sign saying "Free zucchini please take one!!!" But if you have one zucchini vine and are hoping to feed your family on it for the next month you'd probably be pretty grumpy if someone passing by grabbed a zucchini. It's the same when very few elements of your day to day life are tied to your cultural history, you may feel more of a need to not share the pieces you have.

        2 agree
  47. I think it's ok. People from many other cultures give their babies north American/European names and that applauded, yet as north Americans people don't seem to like when we want to use other names. We live in a truly multicultural and global world now. Why not embrace that culture and be influenced by the cultures we find interesting. My husband and I LOVE some Spanish names but my sister said its ridiculous to use one for our baby. I don't agree. Why not name the baby a beautiful name you love from any culture? I say go for it!

    1 agrees
  48. Round and round we go…I just don't see the harm of honoring a culture/idea you love by naming a child after it. Maybe you are the dominant culture pulling from a minority in your region, but opening the forum for new questions and ideas as opposed to perpetuating the homogenous standard is a good thing…Right? Challenging, loaded, and tricky, but potentially very, very worth it.

    2 agree
  49. As a Jew, it really bothers me that Cohen seems to have become a popular name for white Christian boys. It's an important Jewish surname that means priest, and only certain Jews are allowed to carry the name. For Christians to just grab it bothers me immensely.
    I can't speak to what Japanese people might feel about your use of Sakura, but I wouldn't be surprised if many felt similarly to how I feel about Cohen. You're the majority; stick to your own names and please leave ours alone.
    If you love the meaning of the name Sakura, why not use Cherry? If it's the sound you like, what about Sara?

    9 agree
    • Jewish heritage is matrilineal, yes? So it would stand to reason that a large number of people with the surname 'Cohen' are – in fact – not Jewish, while those who actually are Jewish by lineage have other surnames. Then there is the very famous 'Sacha Baron Cohen', who is decidedly un-priestly. I'm genuinely curious how you feel about these things – is it ok because they are born into the name, or does that bother you as well?

      2 agree
      • Please be careful. You are responding sarcastically and telling her that you, Kathleen, get to out-logic her religion's naming tradition. I don't think that pointing out that a celebrity does not live up to his name-sake "frees" that name for cultural appropriation.

        10 agree
        • Whoa – no sarcasm intended at all. I'm genuinely interested on her perspective on this. My personal opinion is that cultural appropriation is an inevitable part of cultures meeting, however I find the posters position intriguing and would like to know more – if she doesn't mind.

          3 agree
      • I'm curious what you consider "priestly" behavior? Particularly as kohanim (plural of cohen) didn't fill the same role as the various Christian roles of priest back when it was a more full time job. For what its worth, I can say from personal experience that Mr. Baron-Cohen comports himself excellently when attending religious services.

        3 agree
        • My understanding of priest was based on the instructions laid out for Aaron and his sons. To over simplify it, separate and holy. Not my impression of Baron-Cohen at all, but then, only an impression based on an understanding. 🙂

    • Interesting–friends of ours named their son (now 5) Cohen after Leonard Cohen. They are neither Jewish nor Christian. I don't know anyone else with that name and always liked it for its uncommon qualities & its phoenetic aesthetic. It never once occured to me (and I'm sure, to them) that anyone of Jewish descent would be offended by it.

      This is something to keep in mind–the connotations you have because of your particular background doesn't necessarily mean a name was chosen disrespectfully or ignorantly. The intended meaning may be completely different and unrelated.

      1 agrees
      • I totally pitched "Cohen" as a name for our son when I was pregnant for this same reason. LEONAAAAAAAAARD. 🙂

  50. If you're not sure about this name, think about how your child will feel carrying the name. Maybe adopt the name for yourself for a few days, and practice giving it to people you don't know (like when they ask you for your name at starbucks or for a table at a restaurant). That way you can see how people react to a White person being called a Japanese name. What ever reactions you experience, your child will experience for their lifetime. I'd also second the option that you consider giving the name to your child as a middle name. You can still use it on a day-to-day basis (several of my friends are known by their middle names) but it gives your child the option of using a different name if they want to later in life.

    7 agree
  51. As an American living in Japan, married to a Japanese man, I can tell you that I'm facing down the same problem – even with half ethnically Japanese kids.

    Yes, names are incredibly important, and choosing the one that speaks to you is probably the most difficult criteria to measure up to. But there's also the consideration for how the name will affect the child it's attached to. And here are a few of the things holding me back, just to put them out there:

    I've actually encountered a few white kids (no Japanese roots, family, nothing) with Japanese names here, and they are universally ridiculed, at least upon first introductions. Small sample size, mind you, but every. Single. One.

    Japanese people are fully aware of how asian cultures (and specifically Japan) have been popularized and romanticized by western cultures. With these kids whose parents gave them Japanese names, a lot of the Japanese friends they made had a good long laugh over it, assuming that their parents were either part of the otaku generation (fanboys and fangirls sucked into the influx of manga and anime) or just Americans who "ooh" and "ahh" over the exotic mysteriousness of Japan. And they are often teased and met with the Japanese equivalent of eye-rolling. Especially with stereotypical/historical Japanese names, like "Sakura," (number one!) "Musashi," "Haruka," or any girl's name that ends in "-ko." Or anything that was ever the name of a famous ninja. (I met a kid once named Samurai. I'm not even joking – I've never seen someone so humiliated by their name in my entire life. He was getting it changed, but just went by "Sam" until then.)

    One other thing to consider is the mixed-Japanese stigma. In my area, there are a fair amount of mixed American/Japanese kids, and they more often than not look 90% foreign. A lot of these kids are discriminated against because the most common pairing is Japanese mother x American father, which leads to the following assumptions:

    a) The father is military
    b) The mother moved to America, but took the kids back alone (a form of kidnapping that Japan stands behind, a whole other can of worms)
    c) the mother is/was an AmeriJou (portmanteau colloquialism meaning "american-chasing girl" or "american-loving tramp," a highly derided subculture of young Japanese women)

    As you can imagine, those three options, while not always the case, are met with prejudice. And so seeing a white-looking child with a Japanese name might invite a lot of unwarranted and untrue assumptions.

    Again, these are just the reactions I've seen from Japanese people, and problems with white kids with Japanese names *in Japan itself.* There's no guarantee that your child will ever visit Japan, so this may all be a moot point. For me, however, I'm wrestling with the issue myself and wanted to share some of the things giving me pause. I get stared at when people hear my Japanese last name, like they've never heard of a foreign woman marrying a Japanese man. I can only imagine what my child would be met with, and I would want him/her to be proud of having Japanese heritage, spend time here, meet family, etc. What I might do (and is common practice in many mixed families) is choose a western first name, and a Japanese middle name to be used with relatives here.

    Japanese people living in America might be more used to it, though, and you probably won't get the same reactions as someone who lives here. So I guess it's down to what the name means to you! =) It seems to be special to you, and you likely won't have the same set of issues I will, so you have a bit more leeway.

    (EDIT: Also, for what it's worth, if it's just *any* Japanese name you have your heart set on, rather than that specific one, I'd encourage you to do a bit of exploring. There are many beautiful names out there. I have two half-Japanese friends whose American parent named them Sakura, and both have changed it because they found it embarrassing. Though they both live here in Japan, so that might be a completely different case.)

    2 agree
    • I was going to post something similar, as my husband was an eikaiwa in Japan for two years and this was also his experience, but you beat me to it with a much more thorough explanation!

      3 agree
  52. I see it this way: how would you feel if a Japanese person named their child Evelynn, Michael, Ashley, etc.?

    I personally think we overdo "cultural appropriation" sensitivity. There are particular customs and traditions that need respect. For instance, I would be uncomfortable if someone took a communion ceremony out of its religious context. But does that mean every aspect of introducing another culture into our lives needs to be avoided and/or researched to death if we're not directly tied to it? I personally don't think so.

    1 agrees
  53. I am a white, middle class, half catholic, half protestant English woman born and bred, the poster child for oppressor short of a penis. I have lived all over the world and am now living in Canada. I have to say I have often been frustrated while in N.America by people using names from the various parts of my homeland as a sort of shorthand way of claiming an affinity or connection for something that is now seen as exotic, interesting, victimhood. People saying "I'm Irish/Scottish" etc when they are in fact many many generations of Canadian and have never engaged with the complex and tragic history of all of the peoples involved. Often it comes across as a middle class guilt distancing itself from its privilege by claiming close ties to an oppressed people.

    My son has a very old english name Jago (Jay-go). Most people think he's called Diego! He gets frustrated sometimes telling people how to say it, it never occurred to me that people would have much trouble with it and he's okay with the struggle. Thanks to my husbands northern scottish ancestry (he's a Canadian) my son is as white as the day is long, he's almost blue in winter and Diego seems like such an odd guess but we are in N America, it's a far more familiar name here and that is wonderful to me.

    On a light note my Brother-in-law and I play a game as we travel around the english speaking world collecting names. Perhaps you should check that in Japan the combination of the first name and your surname are not ludicrous or hilarious. N.America is a wonderful place for collecting these names as the words have different meanings here than in UK english, the first name Randy is relentlessly entertaining to our childish game and combinations such as Randy Bishop, Randy Goodnight and Randy Kamp are great. Chip Sarnie III has kept my brother giggling for ages (it's a common snack in UK, a sandwich made from fries) and Roger Roughly still has the crown. He's a brit and when he introduced himself he actually commented on his name saying that Canada was about the only safe place for him to live as it's just a name here.

    1 agrees
    • No, there cannot be three entire person called Chip Sarnie. *fits of giggles* I agree, though, Roger Roughly definitely wins.

      • I know! That was the cherry on the top, you get a whole picnic full of sarnies in one family! Awesome! I also had to sit through a meeting with these super senior guys where they kep referring to a woman called "Fanny Humplick"! My boss was giving me the "be quiet or I will lose it too" eyes! A great name, should be in James Bond film! I hope she had the personality to pull it off!

    • Alright, my dad's name is Randy, so I'm used to hearing it, but I'm pretty sure I'm missing something. Why is Randy funny?

  54. Just echoing what others have said so it doesn't get lost: how will Evelynn feel about this naming? Will she wish it was hers? Will she feel hurt and/or left out of your combined family, because you "finally" got to use your "dream name"?

    (I say this as someone with a "normal" name whose sister is much more exotically-named)

    1 agrees
  55. I read this and laughed out loud! I too went through this when I decided to name my daughter Sakura! I love the Japanese culture and I met her father during the cherry blossom season out in Washington D.C. So cherry blossoms have always been magical and special. When I shared this name with both families I got HELL! How dare I name her a foreign name. She's biracial and she'll be more confused! I can't say the name! She'll be teased! etc etc… Guess what? Four years later and happy little girl with a fabulous name is thriving just fine and I get compliments on her name all the time. 🙂 My advice? Don't tell anyone the name of the child until it's already on the birth certificate. It's your child, your choice. No one elses.

    4 agree
  56. I think it is fine. I am Puerto Rican, my husband is Jewish and our daughter has a totally Irish sounding name. Go figure!

  57. You might want to reconsider giving your child the name Sakura. Asian cultures have been co opted by white people. Ask yourself why you like the name so much. Is it the exoticism of japanese culture? Does the cherry blossom have signifigance to you?

    I know you will name your baby whatever you want but this is a little close to home as my husband is chinese and talks a lot about apropraition. It is a cute name… I liked the name Devi which means goddess in hindi but later decided to go with as italian name and a chinese name.

    1 agrees
  58. I am a Canadian mother of 2 girls and we used a Japanese name for my oldest, and she LOVES her name. She takes great pleasure in sharing it with people and is very quick to correct anyone who pronounces it incorrectly. Although some people in my family (they are all very traditional…except me!) had some difficulty with the name at first (my poor grandmother actually wrote in on a piece of paper and carried it with her for months…giggle) it has been accepted. As for children teasing her – a bully will always find something to tease about whether it be your name or something else. I did take into consideration the meaning behind her name before using it, as I also did with her sister who has a Latin name. In Canada we are a melting pot of different cultures all living together and while my entire background is Acadian French, I was given a Greek name. Although my name was very unusual for my small town, I would still rather have a unique name then suffer through having a common name and being assigned a number like some of the kids that i used to go to school with 🙂 Just remember that a name is what you make it – if you raise your child to cherish their name, then they will!

  59. What is ironic and interesting to me is that the Japanese are all out expert enthusiasts when it comes to cultural appropriation, they LOVE taking up other culture's phenomena, and creating whole lifestyles and subcultures around them (check swing dance, brazilian samba etc etc) I think the question is whether a Japanese American would take issue, those who have been subject to American style white supremacy , some of whom identify as people of color- and would probably take issue, some don't and probably wouldn't, I personally think its a little strange to use a name that is not from a language that I speak or that doesn't have deep spiritual significance for me or my family personally, but there are far more important things to worry about- if you love the sound and meaning of it and it will make you happy to say over and over as your child is growing up, use it!

    2 agree
  60. WOW thank you everyone for the feedback! I had no idea my question was posted, so I missed all of these conversations! My original question was re-worded and I think some things have been omitted or lost in the translation: The sickening feeling is not an association specifically of the name Sakura with my ex…meaning if I used the name I would think of him. I meant it more that when I think of giving a name like that, I have his haunting image in the back of my head simply in regards to him telling me the name would be cruel and inappropriate, and then I feel like I am being cruel and inappropriate to my child.

    Also, I have done a great deal of research on the name. The name means cherry blossom, and ironically I have always admired and collected Japanese art with cherry blossoms growing up. I never knew the Japanese word for it, though. Several years ago I first heard the word on it's own without the meaning and just thought it sounded like a pretty word. When I found out it meant Cherry blossom, I was floored, almost like it was meant to be.

    I have never told Evelynn that her original name in my head was Sakura, so I don't think she would be offended, and I honestly don't foresee myself loving this child more simply because of the name. I have gotten wonderful feedback on Ev's name and I have grown to be quite proud of it, but I could never fee favoring a child because of a name. I would just have a warm feeling in my heart that I actually got to use it, is all.

    I appreciate the information and feedback, everyone! Thank you!

    • PS I do have a vast respect and love of Japanese culture, this isnt just about a pretty name…in fact I try and be diverse in learning about and understanding many cultures. If I ever get to travel, my destinations in mind are not the typical tourist spots, but rather places like the back alley markets of India, etc. That is the type of culture I love learning about. My dad is a huge history/culture buff and has been all over the world and in some of the most remote places. I find his life and learning about the places he has been fascinating. I think this is also part of my interest in foreign names and cultures, as I am extremely close with my dad.

  61. As a frequent visitor to Latin America over the last 10 years, I have watched as American names have become more an more popular in the Spanish-speaking countries. Sometimes they're spelled a bit oddly, but I've never found it offensive or anything. So I don't think going the other direction would be a bad thing. The world is getting smaller, and cultural sharing is inevitable.

    You just want to make sure the name is appropriate, and be aware of any cultural or religious baggage the name might carry.

    Also be careful if you tinker with spelling. I'm a female with a French middle name, which my parents didn't research thoroughly, and it is spelled the male way, Rene, vs the female way, Renee. I've made peace with it.

    • I work at a hospital that is situated in a large Hispanic neighborhood, and had a young patient named "Meleny" today. Your post just made me think of it.

  62. I think what it really boils down to is your gut feeling. If you are comfortable with the name in your heart of hearts than by all means name your daughter that! If you know that deep down you will always have insecurities about the name then pick something else that you won't worry about. My personal solution for names that I love but just don't feel 100% okay with giving to my children, I give to my pets!

  63. I'm not Japanese. I am a mixed woman raised in a family that had put so much effort into passing for white for so long that we've lost most of our language and culture in trade for more open doors.From where I sit, a respectful, appropriate use of a well researched name by a family that feels it is special to them and right for their child is a beautiful thing. Maybe, just maybe, more of that in the USA will ultimately see us to a point where having a name that falls outside of Western European tradition doesn't automatically lower your chances of getting a job interview.

  64. This is a fascinating discussion, and I'd like to add some thoughts of my own.

    I slightly disagree with the notion that "The only thing that matters is whether you and your partner love the name…if you do, then go for it!" My belief is that with naming, you need to consider what other people will think, much more than what the parents would think. Presumably, you would love the child just as much if she was called "snot" or "fart" or something ridiculous, but her name is going to be one way that people will make superifcial judgements about your daughter (NOT saying that's a good thing) throughout her life. You and your partner will always understand the meaning behind your daughter's name, but she will be the one explaining it to people she meets in her life. I therefore think that it is important for parents to know that their child's name will be one element in how they are perceived by others in the community, and therefore some thinking about how it will be perceived by others is a good thing…which is precisely what you're doing by writing into offbeat families and getting tons of great feedback!!!

    Having said all that, I like the name Sakura! Another thing to consider though, do you think there's a risk that she might feel 'different' from the rest of her immediate family? If, for example, you're signing a Christmas card and it says "love from Michael, Laura, Evelynn and Sakura Brown" will she feel like her name doesn't 'fit' with the rest of the family? Will there be a jarring disconnect between the ethnicity of her first and surnames? I have a lot of mixed-race friends who would have a name like Mei-Lin Cooper, but it's fairly clear from their appearance that they have one asian and one Western parent. Might people make the same assumpion about Sakura Brown? Does that bother you?

    And no matter what you name future children, I'd check that their initials don't spell out a rude word :p

    1 agrees
  65. I had a nice, long, explanation-filled comment, then Safari ate it. I focused more on the 'name originally picked for first daughter' part of the question, since I don't have anything different to say about cultural appropriation and/or appropriateness.

    My parents, having picked out a different name for me and changing their minds immediately upon seeing me at birth, had no idea that ALL THE MEGANS were born in 1984 or 1985, too. They didn't try to pick an unusual name — especially given both their Irish-American backgrounds (in that neither Megan nor Kevin for my brother was a rare name among people they knew and/or were related to) — but they had no idea how popular it would be, nor how many different ways to spell it there are.

  66. I don't even know what to say to this beyond the fact that our super Caucasian child is the one carrying this name for the rest of her life. She is not an object. Cultural appropriation is real, and making "cases" for Anglicized "white" (Greek, Irish, British, Dutch, white Euro) names is ridiculous, seeing as those names are part of the cult of whiteness. When groups of immigrants from these countries came to America or Britain, they assimilated, and changed the spellings of their traditional names. And a lot of those names are popular. And they are seen as proper, "white" names.

    I'm sure you did whatever you wanted. But the fact that you had to even question it should have let you know right there. But white people are forever looking for ways to assuage their "guilt" at ripping off other cultures and wearing our "exotic" names on their snowflake skin. Whites will be praised for exotic names, while blacks, Asians, and traditional Jews and Muslims are seen as backwards. Unless you have an Asian husband, or a personal connection to Japan or the culture (such as white female author Catherynne Valente who spent many years in Japan and wrote a collection of stories inspired by it), I call appropriation.

    But you're white, you can do anything you want. Your kid is never gonna be looked at the way a child of color would. And I find it very telling and annoying that a group of white people think they can determine what is cultural appropriation and what isn't, considering you are the dominant (oppressive) group.

    2 agree
    • See, normally I would agree with you here – but Sakura is not just a Japanese name. It is also a category of tree. So I would argue that intent matters here. Does the name Sakura for her child come from the Japanese name or just the specific type of tree and its blossoms. The fact that the OP had Japanese art depicting sakura around her while growing up seems to indicate that she is naming her daughter after the tree – which seems to be the etymological equivalent to naming your child Daisy or Ivy.

      Thoughts? I'm generally interested in your response because the difference between word assimilation and cultural appropriation has always been muddy to me. Since Sakura in the U.S. (And other white countries) refers to a specific type of cherry tree, I feel like it's a good opportunity to talk about it.

      Sorry if this is old, but this discussion is fascinating.

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