Thursday, January 07, 2010
The Importance of Names
My Name is Sangoel
by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed
Illustrated by Catherine Stock
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2009
review copy provided by the publisher
This is the story of a Sudanese boy who is leaving the refugee camp for America. When he leaves, the Wise One says, "Don't worry. You carry a Dinka name. It is the name of your father and of your ancestors before him....You will always be a Dinka. You will be Sangoel. Even in America."
Everyone Sangoel meets in America mispronounces his name -- the lady who meets them at the airport and takes them to their new apartment, the doctor who checks him, his teacher, the soccer coach. Sangoel corrects them too quietly to be heard and winds up feeling like he has lost his name. Then he has the idea of making a shirt that shows his name in pictures. He draws a sun and a soccer goal, and when he gets to school, he gets his name back: it is pronounced Sun-goal, not San-go-el as an English speaker might parse it.
Names are intensely important. They are the core of our identity. In the real world, I hope every teacher and coach ASKS a child to pronounce an unusual name so that they get it right from the beginning and the child does not have to fight for his or her identity. I'm a little extra sensitive to this issue since I teach in a school where just this year I have learned names from Africa, China, Japan, Korea, India, Iran, Iraq, and Russia.
Related books: Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate is a novel in verse about a refugee from Africa.
My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits is about a Korean girl who struggles to accept her given name.
Posted by Mary Lee at 4:37 AM