Tsafrir Abayov
'Not Nabab, but Sarah' (Illustration)
Tsafrir Abayov

Schools force Ethiopian students to change their names

Although Education Ministry bans this practice, teachers in some schools still ask Ethiopian students to change their names to Israeli ones. Experts explain first names bear great significance for Ethiopian families, warn of creating 'aggression, despair' among olim

Despite strict instructions issued by the Education Ministry five years ago, banning schools from asking immigrant students to change their names, activists in the Ethiopian community have recently discovered that many institutions ignore the order.


Habtam, who studies in one of the schools in central Israel and whose name means "wealth" in Amharic, has recently been informed by her teacher that "from now on your name will be Hannah."


Another student, Abtach, has been forced to change her name to Odelia, and Toro, a high school student, was offered to change her name to Yafa, which bears the same meaning as her name in Amharic: "Beautiful." However, Toro declined.


In another incident, a teacher decided that a student named Nabab should be referred to in school as Sarah. She later demanded of Nabab's parents to also change their daughter's name in her identity card.


'Condescension and disrespect'  

Asmara Akala, an education consultant and the director of an absorption center in Petach Tikva, recounted that as a student, he was ordered by the principal at his boarding school to change his name to Eli, but that he refused.


"In some places this phenomenon continues. This amounts to condescension and disrespect," he stated.


Dr. Rami Rahamim, a psychologist and head of the Education Department at the Achva Academic College, said that among the Ethiopian community, first names bear an important significance and express the parents' wishes, as well as local traditions.


"The child's first name has a special meaning for his family, and changing it affects his identity, personality and undermines his parents' wishes," he explained.


Dr. Hezi Yossef, an expert on the Ethiopian community and its absorption, added that changing names "hurts the children's ability to reconcile between their original culture and the Israeli culture. This creates frustration and generates aggression and despair."


The Education Ministry stressed in response that immigrant students must not be asked to change their names, as this might hurt their feelings and detach them from their heritage.


פרסום ראשון: 03.03.08, 08:49
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