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Parents forced to change name of 6-year-old Alexa due to Amazon-themed bullying

·3-min read
Parents forced to change name of 6-year-old Alexa due to Amazon-themed bullying

A family in Germany has officially changed their six-year-old daughter’s name, Alexa, after they say she was bullied by other children for having the same namesake as the Amazon device, The New York Post reported.

The family won the court case to legally change their pre-school age daughter’s name after first having their request denied by the local council in Göttingen, a small town located about 185 miles (300km) southwest of the capital of Berlin.

To change your name in Germany, an individual must first file with their local council and the change is usually only permitted if the officials deem it important, Buzz, an Irish newspaper, reported.

The parents’ request was initially denied by the local council, forcing them to take their case to a higher court where they detailed how their young daughter had been subjected to bullying for having the same name as the digital assistant whose users trigger “awake” by saying the name, “Alexa”.

The daughter, whose new name has not been revealed, would suffer through peers issuing commands at her on the playground, while on another instance an adult man approached her on the street and taunted: “Alexa, dance for me!”

This example in Germany is just the latest in an ever growing list of adults and children who feel they’ve been forced to change their name after Amazon ushered in the virtual assistant onto the marketplace in November 2014.

It’s become such a widespread problem that a petition, started by a woman in Massachusetts, was created to campaign for Amazon to change the name of their voice activated assistant.

“My daughter Alexa is nine now. The whole thing is a step beyond ‘normal’ teasing and bullying. It’s identity erasure,” said Lauren Johnson, the founder of Alexa is a Human, in an interview with the BBC in July 2021. “The word Alexa has become synonymous with servant or slave. It gives people a licence to treat people with the name Alexa in a subservient manner,” she added, before noting that for older children and adults, the jokes can often be sexual in nature.

The website for the campaign explains that it’s not just people with the name “Alexa” who are impacted by the internet retailer’s decision to use their name as a digital cue for a piece of technology.

“There are now many people (across many countries) with the name Alexa, or one that’s similar,” the website reads, providing the examples of Alex, Alexander and Alexis as evidence. “The degree of impact that Amazon’s virtual assistant is having on them varies; some contend with their name frequently triggering devices when someone speaks to or about them, others have that issue, but also deal with dehumanizing commands and comments from people who now associate the name with giving orders to a virtual assistant.”

For their part, an Amazon spokesperson fully acknowledged that “bullying of any kind is unacceptable, and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms” and noted that the wake words that customers use for their digital assistants can be customised to something other than “Alexa”.

“We designed our voice assistant to reflect qualities we value in people – being smart, considerate, empathetic, and inclusive. As an alternative to Alexa, we offer several other wake words customers can choose from, including Echo, Computer, Amazon, and Ziggy,” the spokesperson said by email.

Amazon has said that they selected the wake word “Alexa” both for technical reasons and to pay historical homage to the Library of Alexandria, which they say is “reflective of Alexa’s depth of knowledge”.

Between 2010 to 2018, Alexa ranked as the 49th most popular name in the US, with nearly 40,000 babies being registered under the identity.

The petition on Change.org organised by the group has collected more than 6,000 signatures, only a few hundred away from reaching the goal of pledging 7,500.