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Can I use names from other cultures?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Moonalight, Jun 13, 2020.

  1. ascanius

    ascanius Inkling

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    Ok.... Your point. I kinda thought this was obvious, sorry if I wasn't clear.
     
  2. nck

    nck Scribe

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    What I'm trying to get at is: why is it always wrong to self-censor? If that's a choice I make myself, like not offending people is actually something I care about, by your own lights I would still appear to be doing something wrong. That's what I meant in talking about what the language of your post suggests. You're not just saying it's wrong to expect someone to care about offending people, you're saying it's wrong to care about offending people.
     
  3. ascanius

    ascanius Inkling

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    First off I never said always.
    Second, no that is not at all what I'm saying. Your misconstruing what I am saying, I never once said anything of the sort. I'm saying it is wrong to self censor out of fear you may offend someone.

    Let me be clear I'm also not implying it's ok to be an ass.

    Edit:. Why is it wrong, well because you are no longer writing the book they, the offended, are. People can be offended by anything especially now. I ask the question again what makes them so much better than you to decide what you write, why? You cannot please everyone so who gets to not be offended? Why are they more deserving than others? What makes someone or a group so important that you should go out of your way to make sure they don't feel bad, would they do the same for you? The biggest problem is people's emotions are as fleeting and arbitrary as the wind, terrible metaphore I know.
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2020
  4. nck

    nck Scribe

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    I feel like you should reread what I was saying you were saying, and then re-read what you just said you were saying, because they're the same thing.
     
  5. ascanius

    ascanius Inkling

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    No see I never once said "it's wrong to care about offending people."

    May I point something out. You're interpreting what I wrote to mean, its wrong to care about offending people. But that's not what I meant, I meant exactly what I said.
    To fear something and to care for something are two different things.

    Anyway we are arguing semantics so...... Maybe tomorrow.
     
  6. ascanius

    ascanius Inkling

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    Ok.. I'll admit it that was a bit pointed sorry.
     
    Reaver likes this.
  7. Chinaren

    Chinaren Scribe

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    Personally I say go for it.

    As long as you don't intend offense, then a name should be a name, and you should be free to use it. People use swear words don't they? Some people find that language offensive. If you worry about offending people over every little thing you'd best give up writing right now.

    If a person has a problem with it, then they're free not to read it.
     
  8. nck

    nck Scribe

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    I feel like "if it offends you just don't read it" isn't a great stance to take here. As writers what we create is open to criticism, including "that's offensive."
     
  9. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    So while I do think that's true enough, a lot of people have a particular image in mind when they hear the word "offensive" that skews the way they see these discussions, like finding things offensive is somehow righteous, like that's the baseline for approaching the subject. A lot of people would suddenly think differently if the image in question was, say, promoting drug use. I personally was really turned off by Marie Kondo's "spark joy" and other cleaning advice - her clients are usually those who can afford a professional cleaning coach, and I feel that colors the advice she gives, creating a wave of smug, classist, patronizing cleaning advice.....

    No, there is some point where you have to look at criticism and shrug it off. At some point the criticism becomes part of the story - a conversation that people partake in or not. At some point it's not something to avoid, but something you have to accept, and let happen, and recognize that sometimes there are people who just aren't right for your work, that you're not trying to speak to them, and there's often nothing wrong with that.
     
  10. nck

    nck Scribe

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    This doesn't quite speak to the point I was making, which is that it seems wrong to pre-emptively shut down criticism to the effect that something is offensive by saying, "Just don't read it."

    But even apart from that, it seemed like the point of this thread in the first place was to get feedback as to whether this would offend people, and I don't think responses that can be summed up as, "It might, but who cares" are really very helpful in that context. The person who started this thread already does care, that's why they asked.
     
  11. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling

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    Over the last few years, my work in progress has had many changes in terms of environment, cultures and so forth. As the cultures changed so, too, did the names. As Asians are the second-largest ethnic minority in New Zealand after Maori I could be potentially costing myself about 708,000 potential readers if I screw up basic things like naming conventions in a cultural setting that is modelled (in part) on southeast Asian cultures. Hence my attitude is that when you are borrowing names from other cultures it's always important to make sure you're aware of naming conventions, what names mean and if the name would adequately reflect the cultural environment they are living in.

    Here's an obvious example: Aroha is a lovely Polynesian name that translates as "Love" in the Maori language and if your setting is a Polynesian one or one where you would expect to see a Polynesian or two it's a great name to give your female or fa'afafine (non-binary or transgender) character. No one will ever take you seriously as a writer if you have a character named Aroha in a world based on the Roman Empire.

    Another example of how things could go wrong was when Mitsubishi released a line of SUVs under the name Pajero. The Japanese thought the name sounded cool but they didn't realise that the word pajero is the Spanish word for a person who masturbates. Not surprisingly, Mitsubishi Pajero hasn't does very well in Spanish-speaking countries!

    Naming conventions are just as important. In most Asian cultures the surname comes first and the given name follows. Thus Kim, as in Kim Jong-Un, is the surname and Jong-Un is the given name. Woe betide any Westerner who calls him Jong-Un Kim, although it's actually correct from a Western naming convention.

    Finally, it's always a good idea to keep in mind that it's considered offensive to name anyone after a deity or something considered to be sacred or taboo in many cultures. That's why it's a good idea to do a check to make sure that the name you call your character isn't named after any of these things. I'm pretty sure that if you named your villain Jesus Christ or your hero Adolf Hitler your book would be banned in a sizeable number of countries for obvious reasons so try to keep that in mind before naming your character Pele, Maui or even Mohammad.

    Naming a character or even a place name after something from another culture does require knowing something about the culture from which that name has been borrowed, what the name means and what it signifies.to people within that culture. It's not about being politically correct or culturally sensitive. It's about your credibility as a writer. It's about preventing potential loss of earnings from your writing. It could even save your life considering the toxic political environment in some countries where writers are being censored, "cancelled" or even beaten up for writing stuff that people have taken exception to.
     
    A. E. Lowan likes this.
  12. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Miles LaceyMiles Lacey good points, and I agree in general. It does raise an interesting question, however—to what extent in my world, which is not the real world, can I use real world cultural influences but play with them, alter them to my own purposes. For example, supposed my names have the flavor of a certain culture, but in my world I want to use my own naming conventions that may be a spin on the real world or completely different.

    From a practical standpoint, I suppose the answer is that I can do it to the extent my readers think it works, and to the extent they think I’ve blundered along out of ignorance rather than made a purposeful decision I shouldn’t do it.
     
  13. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling

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    Steerpike - A very good question indeed!

    Even imaginary worlds and cultures will still have real-world influences and the readers will quickly pick up on what those influences are. They might tolerate names that don't fit in with what they think the cultural influence is if there is a logical explanation.

    For example, you might have an ancient culture that was almost wiped out and / or merged with other cultures to form a totally new culture. Yet, remnants of the ancient culture still survive to this day, such as place names, the names of some of your characters and even a couple of the cultural festivals. A good example can be found in Central and South America. Although the Spanish Conquistadors and the diseases introduced by the Spanish almost totally wiped out both Aztec and Mayan cultures there are still Aztec and Mayan place names, many people have names of Aztec and Mayan origin and remnants of their respective cultures still survive to this day, mostly in the form of festivals and certain local traditions.

    Another example that comes to mind is the common practice among the Chinese to Anglicize their names because of the real, or perceived, belief that their legal or birth names would be too hard to pronounce by Europeans or because it would improve their chances of getting employment and housing in countries like New Zealand and Australia.

    Whatever the case, if you decide to use a name that doesn't quite sound right for the culture that has been created make sure there's a reasonable explanation for it.
     
  14. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Right.... well, I think you have to consider the seriousness of it. I mentioned in an earlier post that it's my impression some cultures are more open than others about having their cultural terms used by others - like the Japanese compared to the different Native American tribes. If that's true, it's still likely that some people who are Japanese would still take "offense" or get annoyed by the use of their names in a Western novel. If you look at critiques of the Last Airbender, for example, while everyone loves the series, there are the occasional criticisms about how the show features the aesthetics of different Asian cultures without really featuring the values of those cultures. And honestly that's all completely fair - yet I know many Asian Americans who absolutely love it, as they share both the western personality traits and the eastern aesthetic.

    Nothing is ever really clear cut. Again, at some point you have to accept the criticism and let it be part of the conversation. There's only so much you can do. That doesn't mean be reckless and offensive. It means drawing your boundaries because even the greatest work of art literally cannot please everyone.
     
  15. nck

    nck Scribe

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    I feel like I'm maybe not being completely clear. I am not taking a stance on what one should do in the face of this kind of criticism; I am suggesting that the wrong way to frame the sort of discussion we are having here is to dismiss this kind of criticism as prima facie illegitimate and "just people looking for something to get offended about" in the first place.
     
  16. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    You can do anything, it's your world. If you want to avoid criticism, take the time to present the names you use in a context that represents the "source material," aka the culture the names originate from/ are nowadays used by. If you know too little about a culture to do it justice and you don't want anyone taking offense, don't use it, but again, you can do anything.
     
  17. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Ahh, okay, I think I see what happened. You were debating with Ascanius about it a few weeks ago. But I actually responded to your reply to Chinaren, who didn't say anything like what you're suggesting. Ascanius did though, but that wasn't the conversation I meant to get involved with.
     
  18. nck

    nck Scribe

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    I actually took Chinaren to be making a similar suggestion. It's possible I read them wrongly.

    ETA: Or, to be clear, I was responding specifically to Chinaren's suggestion that some people are just looking to get offended over every little thing, and that if one is offended one can simply not read it. I honestly thought I made this pretty explicit.
     
  19. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    But that's.... I mean, there's no accusation in that post at all that people are "looking" to be offended.

    And that second point is what I've been responding to. People do get offended over everything. I get offended over all sorts of things. It would be a mistake to immediately presume that all offenses are strong enough to warrant the work being tossed out, rewritten, "cancelled," or so on. The point of a critic isn't censure. It's to have a critical conversation about the material. That conversation isn't always something to fear and avoid. Your work can speak to one viewpoint - that doesn't mean that other viewpoints are somehow invalid. Lots of different, even conflicting things are true at the same time.

    The Last Airbender - written by white people using names and aesthetics from different cultures - can be a masterpiece, a cultural favorite among many, and a little offensive under a certain viewpoint, all at the same time, and sometimes that's okay, because it's a conversation, and people shouldn't have to be wrong, or angry, or self-righteous, or defensive, or walk on eggshells, to be heard.

    It's not my intention to make sweeping generalizations and excuse all sorts of serious and offensive things. But there's a point where as an author you can't worry about every pleasing every viewpoint, and appeasing every irritated fan. I believe you should try to do right by your audience, but as a practical matter that only goes so far before it becomes needlessly burdensome.
     
  20. nck

    nck Scribe

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    I took that accusation to be implied this language:

    That clearly seems to be saying to me that because some people are just going to get offended about anything, you might as well not worry about who you're offending.

    Again, I'm not taking a stance on any of this. I am saying "if it offends you don't read it" is dismissive of any attempt at having a critical dialogue about these issues before it even gets off the ground. That's it.
     
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