You know, the original title of this post was going to be "celebrity douchebags", because I can't believe that anyone would have enough gall to do what the so-called celebrities Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt have done: changed their names to something more Native American sounding. Pratt and Montag changed their names to Running Bear and White Wolf, respectively, and said they "are getting more in-tune with our spirituality ... and will be known as the name our creator has given us – our true native-AMERICAN names."
Okay, in the first place...what? In the second place, the media coverage of this, while universally agreeing that this ridiculous couple have made a majorly line-crossing faux pas, are putting their feet even deeper into the muck by making generalizations about how "Native Americans" feel about this non-PC situation. Some articles include quotes by the Rosebud Sioux, although why they've been nominated to speak for all natives on the topic, I'm not sure. Another article mentions a "Commanche [sic]" newspaper journalist.
There's a long history of people changing their names to something more "Native-sounding" without considering that even the moniker "Native American", while it sounds all politically correct and thoughtful, is in some ways, a sign of disrespect. The University of Massachusetts article "A Note on Names" points out that political correctness is based more on appearances than reality and quotes John Trudell as saying, "They change our name and treat us the same."
A Sioux is not a Comanche is not a M'ikmak is not a Wampanoag, and by refusing to allow groups the opportunity to name themselves, we are denying them the basic right of any nation. Often natives of a particular country can't stake a flag on a piece of soil and say it belongs to what they call themselves, supposing they do get some land back in the first place.
I've been spending a long time lately arguing with a friend over why he shouldn't use words like "gay" in a negative way, or make blatant statements (which he always prefaces with "I don't mean to be offensive, but...") like "Gay people are so articulate." I keep telling him: words have power. The names we give things are important. All the children's books and old myths talk about stopping witches in their tracks with the power of a name, and words have the ability to change thought. Changing the way you speak about something changes the way we think, one small word at a time.