Our names hold significance in our daily lives for many reasons. The obvious; it is the thing that people call us and know us by. To go in deeper, our names stem from our roots, carry a cultural or religious meaning and is a part of our identity. For the first generation, carrying an ethnic name in Australia has its own implications and challenges. This can start as early as primary school. From the teachers failing to pronounce and spell our names correctly, our peers giving us nicknames to replace it with something “easier,” to constantly being asked what our name means. This can be daunting, draining and isolating experiences for us, especially in our younger years. Why? For starters, our peers did not receive this treatment, which instantly makes us feel different. Those who carried common and popular names were not expected to explain the meanings of their names and they did not have to teach others how to say their name repeatedly.
For the first generation, these experiences can lead to resentment towards our names and in some instances, have us change them to suit the requirements of others. This is to water down the effects that our ethnicity brings, to ensure discriminative experiences are limited and reduced. For example, we may feel the need to change our names on a CV so that we may increase our chances of gaining employment. Having worked in recruitment roles, I have witnessed this occur on multiple occasions and it accurately reflects the prejudice and discrimination that persists within society today. While I have placed emphasis on the impact our ethnic names carry in our younger years, this example illustrates how it is prevalent in our adulthood too.
I believe in coming times we will see a shift in how our future children will be named. To an extent, it is unravelling now. As the first generation, naturally we are influenced by both our native and Australian cultural values. This is especially evident in the names our children have been given in most recent years. I thought this was interesting to note, because it highlights how our identity, beliefs and values have been shaped by two cultures that are more different than they are the same, yet we live with them simultaneously. The way we view the world, is through the lens of combined cultures and customs. This separates our experiences from other Australians.
I will close this off by saying our names are not the problem. The real problem lays with the teachers who continue to mispronounce or misspell names, the hiring managers who judge others based on their ethnicity and not on their skill set, and the people that refuse to learn how to say our names correctly out of convenience. Our names may cause us discomfort and isolating experiences, but they are also a reminder of our roots and where we are from, in a world that is often trying to make us forget.
Here are some experiences that people have shared with me:
“For most my life(like many other POC) I’ve been conditioned to introduce my name in a way that is more palatable for white Australians. I’m embarrassed to say that it wasn’t until the last couple of years that I decided to make a conscious effort to enunciate my name in the way my ancestors did, the way my community does and the way my parents intended when introducing myself to people.”
“I constantly hear, oh your name’s so different or wow that’s so cool, where are you from? You dread when people ask you to repeat your name over and over again, simply for the reason – “it sounds cool when you say it.”
“Working in customer service I had to speak to a lot of different people over the phone and via email. When they would ask me for my name, they would try to pronounce it once and then when they realised it was too “complex” for them, they would just settle with whatever name they thought they heard and call me that instead of having the respect to get it right before proceeding.”
“We’re always shortening our names to be unnoticed. As if the colour of our skin doesn’t make us stand out already.”
“Sometimes it can lead to embarrassment, especially in instances when there is a back and forth happening, and it takes the other person five tries before they say my name correctly.”