IF SHAKESPEARE ASKED: “What’s in a name?” today he’d get a clear-cut answer from thousands of Canadians who firmly believe a rose by any name dues smell sweeter. In Ontario alone last year, 610 persons legally changed their names, and now a young sociologist has completed a report on exactly what compelled them to take this drastic step.
Nancy Loach, 22, of the University of Toronto, prepared her report for the Canadian Institute of Culture Research and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. She admits she started studying name-changers “fully expecting to find some nice juicy conflicts.” But now she insists: “By far the most number of changes occur for reasons of adoption or illegitimacy, and only a small proportion for ethnic reasons.”
In a close study of nearly 250 of the 610, including 60 interviews. Miss Loach came up with some interesting information about how the “third element” (a Bi and Bi phrase describing Canadians of non-British or French origins) is “making the adjustment to the host Canadian society.”
A young Canadian-born doctor of Polish-Jewish extraction bluntly gave his reasons for changing his name: “I don’t associate myself with my
Polish ethnic roots, nor particularly with my Israeli ethnic roots, so the change was partly for dissociation. I’m not interested in attracting a particular New Canadian clientele, and an ethnic name might dissuade other clientele. A lot of people would rather go to a doctor with a nice simple name which is easier to remember.”
Miss Loach finds this case fairly typical of a good many who make the change; they are usually “second generation,” they are beginning to move into the higher levels of whitecollar professionalism, and out of the “quasi - ghettos" in which they were born. Often, if they are older, with little personal motivation for the switch, they say that they are doing it “for the sake of the children, so that they should not have to go through what we went through.”
The most favored names, she found, are Kelly, O’Leary, Adams. Grant, Bishop and Ross mainly because they’re short, easy to pronounce and old-Canadian sounding.
Many immigrants discover that as they move up the social ladder through superior jobs, their names still continue to hold them back. A doctor, for instance, may find that as a professional man he’s accorded high social prestige, but that as a foreignsounding name he’s still at the bottom of the ladder. This rankles the spirit, and hurts the pocketbook. too: “name changers,” says Miss Loach, “are nothing if not upwardly mobile."
Notable exceptions to these trends, are Italian Canadians. Miss Loach found that, out of the 610 changes registered, only one involved an Italian name. She suggests that this is because the large Italian community centred in Toronto retains a high degree of solidarity. Strong family and religious values within well-defined areas of the city make it easy for the relatively small “second generation” to remain. “Obviously,” says Miss Loach, “Italian doctors and dentists practising in an Italian area have no need to change their names. In fact, that would be a disadvantage.”
Similarly, she found only one switch involving a French-Canadian name, a fact which suggests that, however they may feel in Quebec, Ontario’s Cana-
dians feel socially and financially secure.
But a growing number of New Canadians are evidently becoming acutely aware of the truth of a statement made by John Porter in his book The Vertical Mosaic: “The very small ethnic representation in our elite groups . . . suggests that the chances of achieving the top positions are few. Selections and promotion procedures in the middle levels governed by Canada’s British-origin charter group, may impose difficulties for those of European and other ‘origins.’ ”
“So," Miss Loach says, “the namechangers concentrate on becoming Canadians—non-hyphenated.” And what supports them in their efforts is the lure of the sw'eet smell of success.
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