Does 'Dear Abby' Have A Point About 'Foreign' Baby Names?

Does 'Dear Abby' Have A Point About 'Foreign' Baby Names?
The "Dear Abby" columnist advised a couple not to give their baby a "foreign name," which sparked online outrage.

In a recent advice column, "Dear Abby" tries to dissuade a couple from giving their child an Indian name. She argues that "foreign names" can be "difficult to pronounce and spell" and a name "that sounds beautiful in a foreign language can be grating in English."

Some critics are calling the column racist and guilty of cultural imperialism. One tweet says, "As a south Asian myself, I'd say if they can pronounce Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, they can certainly pronounce Indian names."

But bearing an unusual name can have implications later in life, like when job hunting. A study found that white-sounding names received 50 percent more callbacks for interviews than black-sounding names. And another study found that when minority applicants "whitened" their resume by deleting racial cues, they were more likely to hear back from employers.

"Abby" may have a point. Practically speaking, "white-sounding names" may have advantages, but some Twitter users say their names are about meaning and cultural heritage. Barack Obama spoke about that back in 2004. 

"They would give me an African name, Barack, or 'blessed,' believing that in a tolerant America, your name is no barrier to success," said Obama.

But others struggled with their names, like TV host Padma Lakshmi. She got tired of telling people how to pronounce her name, so she went by the name "Angelique" for a time in high school.

"Even people who saw me regularly, weekly at the gym or something, would call me Pamda, Panda, Padbu," Lakshmi said on "The Late Late Show with James Corden." 

Lakshmi went on to embrace her name. Today, she was one of the "Dear Abby" critics. On a tweet she says: "Names have meaning. They have history. They tell us who we are and where we come from."

White-sounding names" may be advantageous now, but that may shift in the future. Immigrant populations and language diversity have been increasing in the U.S. One in five U.S. residents speaks a different language, and in 2044 minorities will make up the majority of the population.