For Journalists: What's in a Name?

When my great-grandfather came to the United States in the early 1900s, his last name was altered (at least one letter was dropped) either because the immigration agent couldn't spell the name correctly or thought it was too "ethnic." Later, my great-grandfather considered changing his last name all together to something more "American" so that his machine-shop business would be more successful (the family story goes that he was told Wojinski was just too "ethnic" to be placed on a business and then expect that business to be successful).

When I was a senior in high school one of my teachers had difficulty pronouncing my last name, so she shortened it to Wojo and the name has been with me ever since. Even my first name was unusual as I never encountered another Natalie in 12 years of public education. I went to school with Kate, Kim, Jenny, Brenda, Renee, Patricia, Janice, Cindy and the like. Oh, how I wished for such an elegant name. For a few years I lived down the street from Maj and Kaj (sister and brother, prounounced 'my' and 'kye'). Their mother was of Norwegian descent and she wanted to celebrate her family heritage. Those were the most unusual names I came across before adulthood.

Individuals aren't given names for no reason at all. Perhaps you're named after an ancestor or someone famous (i.e. I'm Natalie in part because my mother really liked the actress Natalie Wood in the movie West Side Story). Perhaps your parents argued over what your name should be, couldn't decide and ended up combining two names into what you have today (i.e. the daughter of David and Victoria is Dava). Maybe you're named after a parent's best friend from kindergarten or the nurse in the hospital where you were born. Maybe your parent knew for years that their first child, first son, first daughter would have a certain name. Perhaps your name celebrates your family's heritage.

Sometimes we hear names that are unfamiliar to us and we laugh. One video I have shown in my history classes has frequently generated giggles from students because the names of the people are unfamiliar. I am frequently asked how they could get such weird names (think Temujin, Zheng He, Mansa Musa, Ibn Battuta, Lothair, Hildegard). My response is usually something along the lines that those historical figures would probably find OUR names very strange and worth several laughs. But really, what does it mean when we laugh at someone's name? Are we being disrespectful to that person as well as their families? Do we form opinions about people based on their names and whether or not WE find them to be 'normal'? What if we or someone we meet has a name that is usually associated with the opposite gender? Think about these names: Stacy, Leslie, Tracy, Brett, Morgan. Are those girl's names or boy's?

As journalists we must think about our own assumptions and biases when it comes to names. Would you take a source named Temujin less seriously than an Alex or Matthew or Katherine?

What do you think? Leave a comment here describing the story of how you got your name or, if you have an uncommon name, how you feel about having a name no one else has. You could also leave a comment about our responses to names. Is it fair to laugh at someone's name because it's different from our own? Or look up what your name means and let us know. You can try the Concise Dictionary of First Names or Behind the Name to get started.

This post was originally published at

Appropriate or Not?

Where should photographers, reporters, editors and publishers draw the line in altering content? We generally think it's okay to crop photos to better frame our subject, but what if you crop a photo in such a way that makes a reader form a particular opinion about a subject? Is that fair?

Read one photographer's thoughts about his photo of former vice-president Dick Cheney and the cropping job that went wrong (in his opinion). What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below.

Your Digital Footprint

I've changed the comment settings on this blog. From now on you will not be able to leave anonymous comments and will be required to fill in one of those annoying random-word verifications before submitting your comment. Should it become necessary, I will also set comments to be moderated so that inappropriate comments are not posted for public view.

The change was prompted by an anonymous user posting the text of the email that all Journ II, Journ I and Yearbook students received on Friday night. In short, the text was rude and disrespectful to all of us AND the journalism programs at our school.

This brings me to the point of this post: create a positive digital footprint.

Let's break this down.

First, once something is posted on the internet it never completely goes away. Even if your blog post, MySpace photo or tumblr is removed it's still out there somewhere. Recent polls of employers show that 45% (up from 22% in 2008) are now asking for social networking account information to check you out online. If your digital footprint is not in line with the company's goals and values, you won't be hired. Worse yet, if an employer gets wind of something inappropriate online, you can be fired. Free speech can only get you so far. It doesn't give you the right to be rude or inappropriate without possible consequences.

Second, in 2008 the WCCUSD School Board adopted a policy that holds students accountable for what they say and do online. Practically speaking, that means that if you are threatening or harassing someone there can be consequences (i.e. suspension, expulsion, notification of the police, etc). The policy clearly covers student activity outside of school.

Back in the day, if you wanted to harm someone's reputation you started a rumor that passed from mouth to mouth. A rumor took awhile to get around and often fizzled out before it did any real damage. Today you send a bulk text message or email or write a blog post and within minutes hundreds of people have access to what you're saying. Harm is done within seconds and you can't unring the bell. Deliberate harm to someone's reputation is NOT protected speech. Ever. So, in the moment of anger or disappointment that you feel, you can do harm to someone else AND yourself.

I'm sure some of you are thinking something along the lines of "so I can only write about rainbows and ponies? I can't write about the stuff that bugs me?" Of course you can write about stuff that bugs you. However, you want to do it out in the open using your name, not a handle you hide behind. You also want to provide reasoned arguments about why you are not happy and never stoop to petty attacks against individuals. Your reputation AND theirs will be harmed.

Use this checklist to make sure that your posts move conversation forward, rather than harm others and yourself:

  1. Do my comments harm someone's reputation? In other words, am I unfairly disparaging a person's work or taking potshots at their person? Or, do my comments discuss my dissatisfaction with a policy and offer solutions to the problem?
  2. Am I using curse words? If so, do they indicate that I am not thinking rationally about the topic? Better yet are these words appropriate or do they diminish my argument because they are just there for effect?
  3. Do my words make me look bad? Could these words be used against me later? Or, do my words clearly show that I am not happy BUT explain why and propose ways to make things better?
  4. Will my words and actions (sending an email, writing a blog post, etc.) create a hostile working environment? Or, while my words might make some people uncomfortable, do they open up the possibility of discussion?

What's in a name?

The mystical forces of nature have aligned and Beatles Rock Band has been released into the wild. Speaking of alignment...after some research, Athena has come up with an excellent name for the online paper:
Arke or Arce (ahr-see)
During the Titan Wars, the goddess Arke, was the messenger for the Titans, while her twin sister was the messenger for the Olympian Gods. "News Arke" or "Arke News" would be a fitting name for the online newspaper because that's exactly what we'll be doing delivering news to the Titans.
Other suggestions have included Titan Voice, Titan Tabloid, Titan Template Online.


I'm not really sure, but here is the text of President Obama's speech to students in Arlington. This speech will be given a 9 AM PDT. Read about the controversy at USA Today, at the New York Times and in an article from the Associated Press. YOUR ASSIGNMENT is to write a news brief about this topic. Include an interesting lede (alternate spelling for lead, or the first sentence in a story), information about the speech and information about the controversy surrounding the president's desire to directly address America's schoolchildren. Your news brief should be no longer than 200 words (shorter is better). Once you've finished your newsbrief (say, in a GoogleDocs), copy and paste it as a comment to Ms. Wojinski's Blog. When leaving your comment use this format for your name period_first name_last initial. This is due no later than Thursday, September 10 at 5 pm.

IKEA, what have you done?

The controversy continues as font-fanatics the world over slam furniture-giant IKEA over its decision to change fonts. Fonts of all things. We first started discussing this in class last week and, I have to admit, the students and I find the whole thing amusing. Nonetheless, here is a collection of articles on the topic:

The New York Times has printed several articles over the past week on the topic. The September 5th print edition had a nice graphic showing the modified Futura and Verdana side-by-side. This is the online version of the same article.

Canada's NOW also filed a report on September 4th.

The Daily Finance goes into a little background on the fonts themselves and cites the 'unsavoriness' of Verdana's origins at Microsoft as one of the reasons for the furor.

USA Today reported on the controversy back on August 30. I wonder if it's significant that an advertisement for cat litter is the banner ad?

Even TIME magazine posted a story on August 28.

Finally, for now, the Guardian infuses its story with a bit of humor.

A quick Google News search turns up at least 345 articles and blog posts about the topic. So, what do YOU make of all this hubub? Should designers be in an uproar or is it much ado about nothing? I leave you with College Humor's take on fonts at Font Conference: