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

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Admission Stamp 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?


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

  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!

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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:

        • Omg I know this is 6 years later but this is so funny! Omggg, did she ever find out? This is now definitely in the “top 10 never gonna forget internet stories” for me!

  4. 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.

    • 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!

  5. 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.

    • 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

      • 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?

        • 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.

          • 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.

          • 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.

          • 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.

          • 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.

      • 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.

      • 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….)

        • 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.

        • “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?

  6. 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?

  7. 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 🙂

  8. 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.

      • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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 🙂

    • 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.

      • 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.

          • Not only is this lumping all Asians together (when there are many different cultures in Asia and Japanese is not the largest in terms of population anyways), but Japanese people are an oppressed and historically minority in the United States. Being a minority doesn’t just have to do with raw global numbers, but who has the power, and also the region we are discussing.

  11. 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???”

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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.

    • 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.

  12. 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.

    • 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.

      • They are given those names to help them better assimilate into the culture (and in some cases to help them connect with the culture of the family they’ve been adopted into). If they weren’t a part of an oppressed minority, they wouldn’t need to distance themselves from their genetic heritage.

    • “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.

  13. 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!

  14. 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)?

    • 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.”

  15. 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.

    • 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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!

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

    • 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 🙂

      • 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.

        • 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.

    • 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.

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