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Toward the end of class today, I mentioned the process of naturalization for citizenship, and how the term in itself is paradoxical, as there is nothing particularly “natural” about it. I was curious to find out how the word, then, came to be used, and my quick online search yielded the following.

From the Online Etymology Dictionary, naturalize has the following entry:

“admit (an alien) to rights of a citizen,” 1550s (implied in naturalized), from natural (q.v.) in its etymological sense of “by birth” + -ize. Related: Naturalization;naturalized; naturalizing.

So the process of becoming a naturalized citizen of a country is to assume the rights granted to those by birth. It appears, then, that to be a citizen of a country and to hold the rights granted in that country really comes down to a matter of physical place: were you born there, or could we, at least, “naturalize” you and pretend you were?

It’s also interesting to note that the etymology of “natural” includes, in the definition, being “of one’s inborn character.” Is the process of naturalization, then, something that unites our “inborn character” with our external and tangible citizenship? Was I an American before ever becoming, technically, an American?

And, finally, Wikipedia (the ever scholarly source that it is) has a page about biological naturalization, described as the process by which a non-native species is introduced to a new environment and is able to sufficiently maintain its population. In context of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, I am beginning to believe this definition to be more pertinent than the first.

One Response to “The Etymology of “Naturalization””

  1. Maria: Thanks so much for this.