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The Story Behind Her Name

Do you remember learning to write your own name? How big you wrote it out in thick pencil or crayon along the edge of one of your drawings?

Now imagine that after only a few years in school, you have to learn to write your name using a totally different alphabet, one that looks like a strange system of straight lines that cross and wave tails in two different directions.

In your native language, your name is quite simple… but spelling it out into strange letters? A letter per sound? Suddenly your simple name looks something like: Jegadishawary Paramashwaren

For many children in One Child Matters' projects, spelling out your name is an unanticipated challenge. If your parents never learned to read, they likely can’t decipher how to spell your name in another language.

But you have been offered a spot in a program that offers tutoring, nutritious food, and other opportunities, so your parent and the strange person sitting at the table recording all of your answers work something out. You watch them write the name – when they say it, it sounds exactly the same, but on paper… it’s gibberish.

In seven of the countries in which One Child Matters works, the native language does not use a Roman alphabet like what we use in English or Spanish – and so when it comes time to register a child, the parents and staff may write out a name as best they can. And then a few years later, someone realizes it should have been spelled differently and the child’s name changes with very little fanfare.

As a sponsor, this can be disconcerting. In our culture, our names don’t change unless our marital or family status changes. How we spell our name remains consistent for life. But in many countries, several factors lead to fluid name changes:

Language. Switching from Sinhalese or Nepali or Telugu or Arabic into English’s Roman alphabet is difficult. Many languages have sounds that do not correspond with any combination of English letters. How do you write a common sound using strange letters? Staff, especially translators, may have very different opinions of how to spell it out, and so the child’s name may change with troubling frequency.

Literacy. It’s likely that your sponsored child’s parents have no formal education. The U.S. has a literacy rate of 99% -- but Ethiopia has a literacy rate around 36%. Mozambique is 44%. Less than 54% of Bangladeshis can read. If a project worker spells the child’s name incorrectly, the parent won’t be able to protest or offer an alternative spelling.

Relationships. In most cultures, a child’s name is determined by the family of origin – family names may be passed down, or a name is created based on the parents’ names to indicate that the child is theirs.

So what happens when parents divorce, or mom remarries? If you were born from a previous relationship, the new spouse may choose to adopt you, but it is very rare. More often, the new partner refuses to take care of someone else’s children, and you and your siblings are sent to live with another relative – an aunt or grandmother or cousin.

As you are absorbed into that family, you may take on their name instead. (This is also why you may see your sponsored child suddenly gain several siblings – cousins are rarely distinguished as such and are considered brothers and sisters instead.)

When you notice that your sponsored child's name has changed, take it as an opportunity to ask why. Perhaps your sponsored child will share about a situation that you can pray about in their home life. Or you can praise God that your sponsored child is gaining literacy and is learning enough to know the spelling is inaccurate.

Your child's name is a great topic for a letter. If your name has a special meaning, share that story and then ask them about their own name. Perhaps you'll learn more about the child's culture and the parent's values at the same time, as this sponsor did in a letter from her child:

“In your letter you asked me if I like to be called Mekdes. My answer is yes. Because in Amharic language Mekdes means temple. Since temple is a building where God’s presence is available.” – Mekdes, Ethiopia

Do you know the story behind your sponsored child's name?

Reader Comments (2)

Well, this was such a nice article. I do really wanted to put more comments in here. Great!

January 7, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteressay writing

Well, this was such a nice article. I do really wanted to put more comments in here. Great!

January 7, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteressay writing

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