Wednesday, July 27, 2016

"The heirs of the Illyrians": Craze For Foreign Names Alarms Albanian Patriots

Craze For Foreign Names Alarms Albanian Patriots

Statistics showing that none of 20 most popular names in Albania for newborn children are Albanian have some experts worried about a steady erosion of the national identity.

Fatjona Mejdini
A child in Tirana. Photo: BIRN/Ivana Dervishi

Eriselda and her husband Erjon faced a big dilemma in choosing a name for their first son.  While they wanted something short and simple, their parents wanted an authentic Albanian name for their grandson.

After a lot of discussion about choices their son got an international name: Itan, a version of the popular American name Ethan. A little bit difficult to pronounce, perhaps, but short and simple as his parent wanted it to be.

"I chose the name Itan for my son since I wanted a name that can be pronounced the same everywhere in the world," Eriselda Elmazaj told BIRN.

As a former Albanian student in Italy she recalled her own difficulties with a name originating from Albania.

"It was hard for my friends and my professor to pronounce my name correctly. I didn't want this for my son. In a world that now is open, I'm not sure where my son is going to live once he grows up," she said.

Thousands of other young parents in Albania have taken the same path and also chosen foreign names for their children.

The latest data from the Albanian Institute of Statistic, INSTAT, show that none of the 20 most used names for newborns has an Albanian root.

Of the 35,760 newborns in Albania in 2014, statistics shows that the girl's name "Amelia" was the most popular after being chosen 363 times while a simular version, "Amelja", was chosen another 166 times.

Other popular foreign girl's names on the 2014 list are Ajla, Melisa, Klea, Sara, Kejsi, Noemi, Alesia and Leandra.

When it comes to top male names, Noel was in the lead, chosen 490 times in 2014, while Joel came second, chosen 483 times, while the derivate Xhoel was used another 116 times.

Other popular names for Albanian boys that year were Mateo, Ergi, Luis, Aron, Samuel, Roan and Roel.

The trend for using foreign names is expected to continue as Albanian names for newborns become less and less fashionable.

Soe intellectuals are worried. Edmond Dragoti, a sociology professor in the University of Tirana, told BIRN that the trend towards foreign names started decades ago in Albania and is now at its peak.

Dragoti considers the phenomenon a bad legacy of the Albanian communist past, when foreign names for newborns were banned and naming your child after a famous Western movie star or author meant big political trouble for the family.

"All the frustration about not being able to name their children as they wished exploded after the 1990s, when Albania opened up. The unlimited and uncontrolled new freedom quickly surpassed the need for a national identity," he argues.

Agron Tufa, a writer and literature professor at the University of Tirana, agrees. He told BIRN that the foreign name phenomenon is a blow to Albanian identity.

"This phenomenon is dangerous for our identity and culture and harms our roots," he stated. He sees the trend as a form of parental blindness and levity that is feeding artificiality to young Albanians.

Dragoti also says the phenomenon is fuelled by the mass migration of Albanians overseas, and the perceived need of Albanians to integrate with foreign communities and raise their status among them.

"Foreign names are given to children as a maneuver to raise the family status and make the process of integration smoother," he said.

Tufa considers the fashion unhelpful and a shame, given that Albanian is one of the oldest and most unique languages if Europe.

"Our language is very rich and colorful and gives amazing opportunities for good names while preserving tradition, identity, and culture. What is happing is really a betrayal of our identity," he stated.
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