The American Name Society, a group founded in 1951 to promote the study of onomastics, gathered in Salt Lake City on January 5 to, among other things, vote for Names of the Year. Here are the results:
Name of the Year: Rohingya
The Rohingya are a Muslim faction predominantly in western Myanmar and eastern Bangladesh. They have made international news this year because of military actions taken by the Myanmar government that the U.N. describes as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
The violence began in August when Rohingya Arsa militants attacked nearly three dozen police outposts. The Myanmarese government claims that its response was limited to targeting militants, leaving civilians alone, and that military operations ended in early September; they put the Rohingya death toll at 400. But independent analyses and reporting — including satellite images of entire Rohingya villages set ablaze — shows that violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar continues; Doctors Without Borders places the death toll above 6,700.
Rohingya Muslims have a long history of being excluded and ostracized in Myanmar, where the government’s official stance is that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They were even excluded from the 2014 census. Now, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees are fleeing to Bangladesh, but they aren’t finding the relief they hope for. The Bangladeshi government labels them immigrants as well — and unwanted ones at that. The Bangladeshi courts recently upheld a 2014 law banning registrars from officiating weddings in which one or both participants are Rohingya, based on the claim that Rohingya Muslims are illegally using marriages to gain citizenship in Bangladesh. Violation of the law can lead to imprisonment of up to seven years.
Sadly, this humanitarian crisis hasn’t received as much attention in the United States as it might have if we were not so embroiled in our own problems with emboldened white supremacists, travel bans, and border walls.
Personal Name of the Year: Maria
Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands were devastated by Hurricane Maria last year, and the effects are still rippling out. According to the ANS, one reason for choosing Maria as Personal Name of the Year is “[t]he irony of a name associated by many in Puerto Rico with the Virgin Mary’s compassion being given to a storm whose aftermath has led to questioning the compassion of the federal government.”
Miscellaneous Name of the Year: #MeToo
The #MeToo hashtag appeared across many social media platforms over the last year. The #MeToo movement encourages people who have suffered sexual assault or harassment to share their stories, not only to cast an inescapable light on a long-ignored problem but to offer support to victims.
This is the first hashtag to make the ANS’s annual list.
Place Name of the Year: Charlottesville
The neo-Nazi march, the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer, and President Trump’s subsequent “both sides” comments have transformed the name of Charlottesville, Virginia, into a symbol of both racism and, more importantly, opposition to racism in the United States.
Fictional Name of the Year: Nambia
Twice during a September 20 speech at the U.N., President Trump mentioned the nation of Nambia, praising it for its healthcare system. Nambia doesn’t exist. The White House later clarified that President Trump had intended to say Namibia. What it didn’t say was whether the speech writer had misspelled the name or the President had neglected to wear proper reading glasses.