Wednesday, April 12

What's In My Name?

"My son's name is Miles. Unless we're in Canada, then he's Kilometers." - Jeff Jena

The Misfit

I'm changing my birth name.

Well, not entirely. All i'll be doing is adding my Christian name and second name so it'll be easier to get around and do general stuff in Melbourne.

In the Western world, where the first name comes before the family name (a throw back to how the Western world gives individualism more credit to family values), i've run into a lot of difficulties trying to get official documentation or just simple banking stuff done.

In the Eastern Asia society of Mongoloiod descent - that includes Singapore, China, Vietnam and Korea and the likes - family names come before our names. This is a manifestation of the importance of familial collective over individualism.

Many citizens of more Westernised East Asian countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong tend to give themselves an Anglicised name when they're in a Western society. Not only are East Asian names incredibly difficult to pronounce, they present an everyday conundrum that i run into so very often.

You see, East Asian names, unlike our Western counterparts, are broken up into 3 syllables. An example:

East Asian Name = (Surname/Family Name) + (First Name) + (Second Name)

In the Western society, individuals have 2 given names, but most tend to do away with their middle name. An example:

Western Name = (First Name) + (Middle Name) + (Surname/Family Name)

The trouble with East Asian names, is that the Western folks do not know that East Asian names are spoken in FULL. That is, First and Second name. I'm sure many East Asians would have experienced it, having their names called out by Western counterparts, always with the First or Second name omitted, and almost always pronounced wrongly. Or in worst case scenario, completely unable to pronounce it.

My East Asian name is Ng Kheng Hong. That is, 'Ng' is my surname and 'Kheng Hong' is my full given name. John is my Christian name given at baptism at age 3. I reckon Ng Kheng Hong is just a bullseye target for bad pronunciations and misplaced words. Caucasians generally make 3 mistakes with my name (or all East Asian names with 3 syllables):

1) They assume 'Hong' is my surname. My East Asian name now becomes Hong Ng Kheng.

2) When i specify that my surname is 'Ng', they call me out as 'Mr Ng Kheng' - omitting the 'Hong' thinking that it's my middle name. My name is now 'Kheng'.

3) Most embarrassingly, and somewhat amusingly, Caucasians are simply not able to pronounce my surname 'Ng'. Yes i'd have to admit it's a tough cookie to chew on. I mean, my forefathers must love their consonants. In just 15 months, i've lost count the number of times my name has been called 'John N-G'. Yes, they spell out the word. N. G. God.

Getting official documentations or just getting around can be a real nuisance at times. My English is on par or better than most Caucasians, yet sometimes i feel like i'm an Asian migrant with an untrained ear for English. I feel hampered by my surname and East Asian name. An everyday situation becomes a spelling bee competition when i've to introduce myself as 'John Ng. That's N-G'. Yes, i'm resorting to the Caucasian way of doing things. How inferior lol.

What's worse, is getting asked how my name is pronounced. Christ. I didn't think 'Kheng Hong' would be that hard a name to pronounce. It's short and to the point. I don't get how the woman, who is Greek, can't pronounce my name when her name is longer than a 1-foot sub. Tanya Konstandakopoulos. Whatever. Good thing her middle name isn't mentioned, if any. Pass the peas please.

A name change is just a hop, skip and jump away. I havn't looked into it, but i don't suppose it'll be too much of a hassle.

Afterall, can you imagine my Bachelor of Communication with the name 'Ng Kheng Hong' on it? To compound matters, the Chancellor of RMIT introducing me as 'N-G Kheng Hong' when i'm up there receiving my degree?

I don't think so!

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