Columnist’s Advice Against Giving U.S.-Born Child ‘Foreign Name’ Sparks Online Debate

"Not only can foreign names be difficult to pronounce and spell, but they can also cause a child to be teased unmercifully," Dear Abby columnist Jeanne Phillips wrote in her advice to a reader.


The advice extended by a newspaper columnist to a reader in the United States, discouraging him from giving an Indian name to his child, has sparked a debate among social media users.

In reply to a man’s question in the popular Dear Abby advice column in the Chicago Sun Times, columnist Jeanne Phillips spoke against giving “foreign names” to children, saying that they are difficult to pronounce or spell. She added that kids with such names can be “teased unmercifully.”

The column has led to many social media users condemning the “racist” thought while others have narrated their own experiences to show the difficulties they face because of their names. Some users also explained the meaning of their name, asking if any word in English can carry the same meaning.

Sheela, a Twitter user, posted a response addressed to Dear Abby, expressing her disagreement.

The criticism came not just from Indians, as people from other ethnic backgrounds also expressed their outrage.

Facebook user Teresa Kimrough expressed her regret over not naming her children with those reflecting the heritage of her family. Kathey Brown Wisely questioned the roots of “common” U.S. names.

However, many people also talked about the problems, such as wrong pronunciation by others, wrong spellings in certificates, etc. that came with having non-western names.

The column, which has been running in the publication since 1956, extended the advice in a column on Sept. 13. The reader wrote that he and his wife, who was born and raised in India, were planning to have a child and that she insists on having Indian names for their children.

“The problem is they are often difficult to pronounce and spell. I’m not opposed to Indian middle- names but think traditional ‘Western’ names may be more suitable, since we will live in the United States,” he added in the letter. “How can I make my wife understand that having ‘unusual’ names makes certain aspects of kids’ lives more difficult?,” he asked.

Phillips, in her response, said that while his wife’s concept of giving the children Indian names was lovely, “practically speaking,” she agreed with him.

“Popular names in one country can cause problems for a child living in another one. Not only can foreign names be difficult to pronounce and spell, but they can also cause a child to be teased unmercifully. Sometimes the name can be a problematic word in the English language. And one that sounds beautiful in a foreign language can be grating in English,” she wrote. “I hope your wife will rethink this. Why saddle a kid with a name he or she will have to explain or correct with friends, teachers and fellow employees from childhood into adulthood?”

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