Oh na na, what’s my name?…

This is a line from a popular song by the award winning musical artist and performer :Rihanna.

What’s my name? I’m Elizabeth. But to different people (like my mum and dad, my husband, sisters, close friends), I have unique nicknames and each name am called is special and meaningful, sometimes funny, yet I respond to each one. So, what’s in a name?

As parents, we give our children names. In my culture, naming a child is very significant because apart from the fact that the child requires a name on the birth certificate or simply for the child to not remain nameless, the name given must have a meaning. Some examples of names in my language are: Ofure- meaning Peace, Ese- meaning Gift; and Osose- meaning God’s Own; just to mention a few. The name you give a person is what he/she will answer to.

Why is the name you call someone so powerful that it can either make the person happy when responding to it or it can cause upset for that person?. For example, couples may decide to call each other names like: Honey, Sweetheart, Darling, etc. and it will be regarded as a show of love and respect. But if a couple decided to call their spouse names like: Idiot, Stupid, Slow, Mad, Imbecile and so on, we’ll not only believe there are huge problems in their relationship; the spouse who is name-calling his or her partner such names will automatically be labelled as or accused of being abusive. Hence, this proves that the names we call people should not only be nice to be acceptable by society, but it also affects the perception of society regarding the name used.

Now, we’ve established that a man or a woman can not call their partner names like stupid, etc. as mentioned above, why then do some people think that it’s acceptable to use names like: imbecile, mentally or disabled, spastic, handicapped, wheelchair-bound(as if the person is stuck to the wheelchair) when describing or talking about a person with special needs?

Have you ever been called a name you didn’t like? How many of you have called people such names because of their special needs or because they look different? Could it be that you say it because it’s what you are used to and don’t know any different?

Growing up it was common practice to call people names whether they had special needs or not, as kids, we laughed at such names we called one another and never thought about the negative impact of our words. Also, comedy about people’s disabilities were fun to watch in the past but a few years ago I started to really get upset about some jokes said by some comedians because I realised some jokes are quite offensive and demeaning to people with special needs and I think they need to find better ways to be funny without making people with special needs feel less “normal” by being more sensitive to how their jokes make them feel.

In recent years, language used with relation to special needs has changed and most of the old language or “labels” are no longer acceptable. Terms like “Imbecile”, “challenged”, “confined to a wheelchair or wheelchair-bound”, are no longer appropriate and it’s about time people in society completely avoid the use of such terms. So, that being said, here are some recommendations of appropriate terms( which can be used when speaking to, describing or writing about people with special needs), coined by the National Disability Authority include but not limited to: People with special needs or impairments, wheelchair user, person with mental health issues, etc. While names like: cripple, mentally handicapped, spastic, disabled person are no longer appropriate.

But, bear in mind that some people prefer other terms than those listed above, it is better to ask what term is most acceptable by a person with special needs to avoid causing any upset to that person. Just like me, some people call me Elizabeth or Liz but Beth or Betty is definitely not acceptable for me, even though they’re both lovely names. Hence, when we call people with special needs appropriate names just like we are called, we learn to not only respect them but also refer to them with the name that is also acceptable by them.

Once again I ask: “What’s in a name?”. For me, respect, acceptance, pride, belonging and much more…

People with special needs deserve our respect and they have feelings like everyone else, let’s always remember this when choosinng the names we call them. In the words of Ellen Degeneres “Be Kind To One Another”.