Names mean different things and a lot to different people.
Recently a five-year-old Māori child with the beautiful name of Mahinarangi made the news when her mother discovered that her teachers had shortened her name to Rangi because it was too much of a faff to be bothered trying to learn the child's correct name and using it.
Oh the woes of teaching.
Mother was understandably upset at the lack of consultation about this. Mahinarangi, being 5 years of age, probably did not have any input either.
Names are important to many people for many reasons.
This is not about a cultural difference; it is about respect and thoughtfulness.
The wee girl's name has significance to her whānau. Her teachers, in today's society, should have thought about that and talked to her mother.
We are all named for a reason, no matter our culture.
In some cultures names are hugely important, reflecting forebears. In Pākehā society this applies more than some may know.
I and all my siblings carry at least one first name each from our ancestors, names that trickle down the generations.
This has carried on with our youngest granddaughter carrying her grandmother's name, Jennifer, as part of her name.
I was named Robert after my Irish/Scots grandfather.
I am hardly ever called Robert nowadays - except by the wife when I am about to learn of something I have or have not done.
It's been just plain Rob since I was a teenager.
With Pākehā names it's odd.
I could be also called Bob, Bobby or Robbie, a name that is used occasionally by older people I know.
James could be Jim or Jimmy, Margaret could be Peg or Peggy, Elizabeth could be Betty.
Now, I do not mind my name being shortened, I am an informal type of guy just happy to be called anything (except late for dinner).
Not everybody is like that.
You may notice I like the word Pākehā.
I know many reading this probably do not like it and that is okay with me. Pākehā, to me, describes what I am, the white child of a new country.
I am not European.
I have no forebears or relations alive in the British Isles and Ireland where my ancestors came from.
I am a fifth-generation descendant of those people.
I am of this land, not of those Northern lands. I am no more European than my Māori friends are Tahitians or Marquesans despite what scientists may say. Science is not important in such matters.
Pākehā defines me as a white New Zealander and it is important to me.
Again names are important; they describe who we are and where we are from. We have the right to describe ourselves accordingly.
Immigrants coming to New Zealand from around the world do not turn their backs on their cultures or their traditions, nor should they.
They become New Zealanders but many like to be also described by their original nationality too, it is important to them. It is a huge part of who they are.
So little Mahinarangi's mum is right to take her teachers to task. Māori names can be difficult for some Pākehā to learn, but just learn them. Show the respect of bothering to learn your friend's or your pupil's real name, do not dismiss the name as just too hard and change it for goodness sake.
This works in reverse as well. Recently I read about a Māori gentleman ringing an organisation.
The person who answered the telephone answered in Māori as is very common in New Zealand nowadays. A small sign of our country becoming comfortable with itself, perhaps.
The caller carried on talking in Māori and the person on the other end could not understand him as he or she was not fluent in Te Reo.
The supervisor was called, but still the caller persisted in speaking Māori. He was, of course, also a fluent English speaker as well. Long story short he had his little joke and, having embarrassed some lowly paid customer service person, then began speaking in English.
His comment was that if they, customer service people, are not fluent in Māori they should not use it at all.
That is helpful, not. Māori are trying to get their language accepted and used widely. Many Non-Māori are trying to learn the language as our nation's unique tongue.
Comments and behaviour like this will only make them give up if they feel they are offending or insulting Te Reo speakers by learning the language.
It is all about respect for one another. Do not assume a person is satisfied with you using a shortened version of their name. They may be anything but happy.