Cinthia Baseler

Creative Project Intern 2021
How many migrants renounce their names when they move to a foreign country?
What micro concessions do migrants inadvertently put themselves through and how does the sum of these affect them and their identity?

Drawing from my own experiences as an Argentinian living in the UK, I put together a video as an exercise for me to explore how I felt about my name and how I had to adapt it when I arrived in the UK. After posting it online, I was met with hundreds of Spanish speaking migrants from around the world who could relate to my experiences and most stated they’d never thought about it before, but realised they actually had feelings around the subject. I decided to collate all of the testaments that people were submitting to me as part of my research and I quickly found out there was a very common pattern.

María is the most common female name in Argentina. Not just Argentina, but also most predominantly catholic countries. And because so many girls and women are called María —I recall in my class we had around 10 ‘’Marías’’— a lot of them had to go by their middle name from a very young age. So when Argentinian ‘’Marías’’ reached out to me to tell me their experiences as migrants, a lot of them told me that they identify with their middle name, it is what they like, what they’ve been called their entire lives, but for most of them, people in the host country did, for one reason or another, not honour this. A name is not just a word: it’s a sound, it’s a shape, it’s a unique set of connotations in a specific context. The bouba/kiki effect in Linguistics describes the relationship between speech sounds and visual shapes, and one could say that there is a similar relationship between our names (their connotation, their sounds, their shapes) and our personality and id entity.

When Josefina, Pía, Nazarena and other women that identify by their middle name moved to their new countries, they soon realised that their names may not have been as easy for people from the host country to pronounce, spell and understand. So the locals either switched to María upon finding out that that was the women’s first names, or the migrants themselves surrendered to being called María for ease of communication. For a lot of these women, moving to a foreign country meant that the sound which defined who they are on a day to day basis ceased to exist.

How does this affect how people from the host country perceive immigrants? Does it solidify a concept about a certain group of people? How much of the nuance that makes up an individual's personality is cast aside in favour of familiarity and ease of communication? To which extent do migrants have to undergo a transformation and face these micro concessions, and how much can people from the host country help with this?