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What’s In a Surname?

Skin+color+has+not+and+will+not+define+barriers.+%28Photo+licensed+under+creative+commons+by+Pixabay%29.+
Skin color has not and will not define barriers. (Photo licensed under creative commons by Pixabay).

Skin color has not and will not define barriers. (Photo licensed under creative commons by Pixabay).

Skin color has not and will not define barriers. (Photo licensed under creative commons by Pixabay).

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Culture is a monumental part of our identities as people. Cultural differences can either be used to highlight our uniqueness or separate us. Last names are very indicative of culture or ethnicity. At Brashier, there is no shortage of diversity in ethnicity and in last names.

“My last name is Vanvalkenburgh. There’s a city in Holland called Valkenburgh and van just means ‘of’ in Dutch, so it’s actually Of Valkenburgh. It’s ironic because my father’s side are all American, but my mom was actually born in Holland,” says sophomore Perry Vanvalkenburgh.

Highlighting your family’s ethnicity is important. The ability to find something special in where you come from gives you a sense of pride, even if not expressed in outward behavior. Just knowing what your family did or where they came from can make you feel more prideful than usual.

“[My family] knows that our ancestor was a king of Northern Ireland, House of Ulster. The symbol was a red right hand because supposedly he was in a race to claim land, and the person who would claim it was the person who got there first. So naturally, he cut off his hand and threw it into the land to claim it. Then later in time, the people decided that they didn’t like him and shipped him off to America after kicking him off the throne. I think that’s pretty cool. It takes a lot of skill to get kicked out of a country that you partially rule,” says junior Emma Fretwell.

Clearly, it’s easy to take pride in your ancestry, especially when they were infamous and forced to leave their country. It’s harder to have the same pride when people have tried to belittle your ancestors based on where they came from.

“My grandpa and grandma on my dad’s side said that they’re family is from Norway and Denmark. It’s a part of my history and it’s pretty cool, but I know that area has the stereotype of wooden shoes and some even talk about Holland,” says freshman Katie Taylor.

On the other side of the spectrum, stereotypes can be embraced and more pride can be taken from them. From appearances to what the people say or eat, stereotypes can be used either way to create pride or shame.

“My dad does look like he’s straight out of the 1920s Irish mob, and he’s been complimented about it. He texts me to tell me about the latest story of the gas station cashier complimenting his beard every week. I also know that the Irish are portrayed as a huge, tight knit family who don’t forget anything,” says Fretwell.

Although culture can be a great source of pride, it can also be used as grounds for unfair prejudice. This isn’t prevalent as much every day, but it unfortunately still exists.

“In elementary school, prejudice was especially bad. I was bullied a lot for being a Muslim because I was the only one. Every time we would talk about September 11th, other students would blame me and my family for all that happened. It’s really confusing when you’re at that age and everyone blames you for something that you hardly know any details about,” says sophomore Sakina Naqvi

Luckily at Brashier, it’s easy to find family-like groups of diverse students. Even more importantly, these “families” respect the expression of their peer’s culture. This understanding and respect shows growth from darker times where culture was considered a barrier.

“We have odd food and my grandparents have really thick accents, but I don’t think that my heritage has made a huge impact on my life negatively. I feel like I fit in fine and my friends respect me,” says Vanvalkenburgh.

As time goes on, people have become more understanding and respectful of different ethnic groups, but media still uses negative stereotypes of many cultures.

“Certain media is ignorant, I think. I also think that a lot of people are only prejudiced because they don’t want to be seen as “wrong” in the public eye. It’s getting better and better; people are becoming less ignorant to the fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, and I haven’t felt prejudice against me here,” says Naqvi.

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What’s In a Surname?