Saturday, March 19, 2011

Pondering about Names Part 3

Well, my three days at DIK are drawing to a close and today I'm going to be a little more serious about names.

One thing I've noticed about reading m/m books in particular is that there are often names that I have never come across in my daily life in the UK.  Names like Javiar, Angelo, Esterban, Pablo, etc, etc.  You see the link here?  Yes, these are all Hispanic names, and as the Hispanic population in the UK is next to nothing, we just don't get those sort of names here.  Yet these names crop up an awful lot in m/m romance because the Hispanic population of the USA is very large.

What we do have are a large number of Muslim, Sikh and Hindu people.  In fact, did you know that one of the top ten baby boys names in the UK for 2009 is Mohammed?  I live near the city of Bradford which has a very large Asian population (and by Asian I mean Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi, not Oriental) and in my time as a teacher I came across many unusual names such as Afsad, Said, Amar, Aktar, Kumar, Tariq, etc, etc.  And yet, there are very few m/m books which feature Asian men with Asian names - unless they are historicals set in the Middle East.

Now there may be a few reasons for this:

1. There isn't such a large population of Asians in the USA and therefore writers don't put them in their books.

2. Islam is a bit of a no-go area for m/m romance - in which case what about Hinduism or Sihkism?

Breaking off here to mention that there is an interesting storyline going on in EastEnders (a British soap opera) at the moment where a married Muslim man - Sayed - is having a gay love affair with another man.  There are lots of issues around this, especially to do with infidelity, but also because he is Muslim.  I don't watch EastEnders (far too depressing for me) but I have been keeping an eye on this storyline through the media.

3. Asian names are confusing and difficult to know how to sound out.  It doesn't seem to stop authors using Oriental names which can be just as difficult to know how to pronounce.

4. Asian men are just not too attractive to us lily white westerners.  Erm... really?

OK, I admit that last point was only there so I could show some seriously sexy pics of Asian men :).

And now I've completely lost the thread of what I was yes!  Asian names.

So do you think that authors ought to write more Indian or Pakistani men into their books?  Is it the names and the association with Islam that puts off authors?  More and more there are books set in the UK, where there is a large Asian population, and although I can think of a few stories where secondary characters have been Asian, I can only think of one short story by GS Wiley where one of the main heroes was Asian.  Or maybe I have a bad memory and you can point out a few I may have missed.


Tam said...

I wrote a short for fun that no one's ever read (except maybe you) with a half/Libyan/half/Canadian named Omar. :-)

There is the baby book, Her Two Dads by Ariel Tachna which had Sri who was Indian.

The Tenth Avatar was in the Brush of Wings Anthology and that had Arun who moved from India to the US.

Those are the only ones I can think of. Here we call them Asians and South Asians, meaning India/Pakistan/etc. We have many Muslims in my neighborhood and probably 40% of my daughter's high school is Muslim although mostly middle eastern rather than South Asian. Not all Muslims and many Indians are not, they are Hindu, practice their religion much so you can always write non-practicing characters or men who moved away from their families to a more liberal region like the UK or US in part because they are gay and didn't have the freedom back home.

I'd be more than happy to see some more ethnic names of all types come up, but I supposed depending on the city/location it has to make sense. You can get away with an Omar in Ottawa, not so much in a small southern town in Georgia.

Chris said...

Good questions, Jen! I know I've read something with an Indian/South Asian character that hasn't been mentioned here, but I am not coming up with the name. I HAVEN'T read Indian Giver by Kris Klein...

Jenre said...

In the UK it's Asian or Oriental to distinguish between those in India?Pakistan and Japan/China?Korea.

I've read those stories and forgotten them - except the two dads one. I remember the story in A Brush of Wings. The hero was Hindu.

Jenre said...

Chris: I'm laughing at the blurb of the Kris Klein story :).

Chris said...

That's my usual reaction to his story blurbs. :)

Tam said...

Oh, I thought of another one. It was in one of the Sindustry volumes with the Indian prostitute and the guy who was obsessing over an Indian coworker or something like that and was using the prostitute as a substitute of sorts.

Anonymous said...

In the US, orientals would not be used to describe East Asians - it's considered a derogatory and offensive term. Being Asian, I twitch when I see that term used to describe us.

It's a case of your culture vs. my culture, I guess.

Jenre said...

Tam: Yes, I read that one too. I knew I would forget one.

Anon: It wasn't my intention to be offensive, just that I know that what we call Asian in the UK isn't the same as what people in the US/Canada call Asian and I wanted to make the distinction. You are right in saying that even though Oriental is used in the UK, it isn't the best term to use. Instead, as much as we can, we try to differentiate between countries - Japanese, Taiwanese, Chinese, Malaysian, Taiwanese, etc, etc.

Perhaps the way it is done in the US is better, but it's certainly a cultural thing.

Jenre said...

For some reason I wrote Taiwanese twice when I meant to write Korean. Oops :).

Barb said...

Interesting thoughts! My first response was - no, I want "normal" names. But really, if some books try to appeal to a wider audience by simply using less Western names maybe Romance sales will take over the world :)

Jenre said...

Hi Barb
Sometimes Asian names can be very confusing - although I'm used to them and don't find them as much of a distraction as some Middle Eastern names. I think if authors keep it simple then it's still possible to have an Asian character without the name annoying the reader.

I think romance has already taken over the world :).

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