Monday, July 9, 2012

Taking on an English name (@ Peril Magazine)

I've got another post up at Peril, the Asian-Australian Arts and Culture Magazine. It's about something that is prevalent among Asians in the English speaking world - adopting an English name. Check it here.

I think it’s sad that we allow some people to wallow in their laziness. Because calling yourself a Jim when you’re really a Dmitri, just so some Anglo-Aussies won’t be weirded-out by it, not only caters for that laziness, but also sets a low bar.
 “Oh no, this foreigner has a name which does not match any of the standard 30 names I have stored in my mental databanks, whatever will I do? I think my brain might explode.”
By making someone learn to pronounce your name properly, you’re actually doing them a favour by broadening their mind. But as I said with my own name, sometimes there’s only so much you can take of hearing your name mangled before you rename yourself “Bob” in a fit of frustration.


  1. Who wants to live in a world where everyone is a Tom, Dick or Harry, when we could also be hanging with Tom, Rajendran and Zain’uddin?

    Well, the Japanese, for starters. Homogeneity seems to work for them just fine. So fine, in fact, that they seem intent to keep it, despite the assertion of various experts that they need to bring in immigrants in order to mitigate the effects of its aging and decreasing population.

    Generally, I think this post makes a lot of good points. It shouldn't take too much work to pronounce someone's "ethnic" name. I, in fact, have friends with ethnic names, and none of them are too difficult to pronounce.

    Ironically, I have a more unusual surname than any of them, and people are always butchering my last name. However, I've never really been bothered by it, probably because I identify as a white person as opposed to any European ethnicity. I've come to accept and expect it.

    But anyway, back to the point I italicized. I agree that people should not be lazy, and would do well to take the time to learn someone's name. But is having an abundance of diverse "ethnic" names really necessary?

    The Koreans and Vietnamese don't exactly have an excessive amount of diverse names, and they seem to be doing just fine.

    1. I don't think it's "necessary" to have an abundance of diverse names. I'm just saying that while people tend to like living in a diverse society, they are lazy when it comes to certain aspects of it... and working out how to say an unusual name requires very little effort.
      To expand on something I mention in the article.. I play social basketball with a pool of about 20 guys, most of whom are Chinese. Only one of them goes by a Chinese first name. Of the rest, 4 of us are named Chris and 3 are named Jason. There's something kinda boring about that. Which doesn't really mean anything, I just think it's nice to have variety.

  2. Actually, I have noticed the practice of taking an English name to be common amongst Chinese people in Malaysia and Singapore too. A few of my Chinese friends there might use their Chinese names on official forms and with their parents, but with friends and strangers, will only use their English name, no matter what the ethnic background of the person they are talking with.

    Sure, Singapore is part of the English-speaking world and parts of Malaysia could be thrown in there too, but in this context, its not a matter of catering to Anglos, as they are often using these names with people of the same ethnic background.

    I'm not really sure why this happens or what this means but I think it does add some interesting complexity to this issue.