I’m non-binary and I named myself after a book character, when I was thinking back on the book I remember that at the end the main character had small bird feathers intertwined with her braid and I’m scared I named myself after someone who has appropriated from native culture, fictional or not.

Hi there! Thanks so much for writing in!

From what I can gather, there’s a couple of things to talk about in your question: affirming your gender-identity, the use of feathers, and cultural appropriation. Let’s go in that order.

To start, I would affirm that taking a name for yourself, as a nonbinary person, is a good movement toward affirming your gender-identity. I’m glad you chose a name that has meaning for you and resonates positively in the way you see yourself. Go you!

Secondly, feathers and the types of feathers used by each tribe varies in their meanings and can be based on the geography and the types of birds in the area, or the types of trading that sometimes brought in feathers from afar. Generally speaking, feathers like eagle feathers are considered sacred because of the relationship and proximity that eagles have with the heavens and the Creator. It’s a symbol of above.

Now, not knowing the book or the name you have chosen, it’s hard for me to say whether the main character was Native because she wore feathers in her hair.

I personally love wearing or keeping things I find in Nature, like beautiful rocks, sticks, shells, flowers, or feathers. However, I was always taught to hold that object and ask its permission before removing it. There have been times when I felt that object wanted to stay where it was, so I put it back or didn’t pick it up. Being raised as a Zuni (my tribe) animist, we were taught that all living and inanimate objects contain a life force; objects that were recently living contain special significance and should be treated as such…special. It’s my way of appreciating the beauty that Mother Earth provides. It’s not surprising if others that were not raised as animists would feel this way about nature. They are a pretty compelling life force.

Wearing feathers in your hair, is not strictly an Indigenous indicator. For non-Indigenous folks, I would encourage them to think about the meaning of wearing feathers from a traditional perspective.

Lastly, to define cultural appropriation, it is the adoption or theft of icons, rituals, aesthetic standards, and behavior from one culture or subculture by another. It generally is applied when the subject culture is a minority culture or somehow subordinate in social, political, economic, or military status to the appropriating culture.

Cultural appropriation is profitable. Objects and traditions (but not the people) of marginalized cultures are seen by the dominant culture as exotic, edgy, and desirable, which translates to profits. Does this seem to apply to the book you’re talking about?

If the name in question is an Indigenous name, seriously consider whether the name is right for you. If it’s a non-Indigenous name, but you’re worried about enshrining a problematic character as its origin, I’d suggest you look for other meanings/histories of the name and perhaps find one that feels more appropriate… just right for you.

This is such an interesting conversation. I thank you for writing in with integrity. Keep the conversation going with others, for this is how we grow.

Keep up the good work!

Take care,

Auntie Manda

See more from Auntie Manda
Topics: Culture and Language|Identity|Non-Native Allies