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ICOS 2008 Conference Abstract

Forms and Norms: Theorizing Immigration-Influenced Name Changes in Canada

Author(s):
D Dechief
Information Studies, U Toronto, Canada

In Canada, immigration and settlement practices have been altering individual's names since the late 1800s. From the common explanations of immigration officials engaging in novel orthography as they completed forms, to families altering their names to make them easier for their neighbours to pronounce, a range of dominant cultural influences were at work. Today, these forces continue; they are evident in such techno-bureaucratic minutiae as maximum character lengths for permanent residents' names, and in the decade-long policy encouraging people with the religiously-significant Sikh names 'Kaur' and 'Singh' to remove these names before applying to immigrate (CBC, July 2007). They are also heard in day-to-day introductions as some newcomers choose to use common English or French names to present themselves, and to potentially make themselves more employable (Ng et al., 2007).

Through the many waves of immigration the federal government has regulated, what have been and what are the implications of name changes for new residents of Canada? (How) do shifts in personal identifiers influence migrants' perceptions of themselves and their new nation of residence? What are the broader outcomes in terms of nationalism and cultural pluralism?

This paper provides ways of theorizing immigration-influenced name changes in Canada. It moves from analyzing the techno-bureaucratic systems used to document identities (Franklin 1990, Feenberg 1991, Bowker & Star 2000), to examining ways that disciplinary technologies and technologies of the self (Foucault 1977) work to create individual and cultural identities (Thobani 2007) that benefit the ruling relations (Smith 2005).

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