Protecting one’s personal identity

When I was living in a guest-house in my youth in Australia, young Archie befriended me. Soon he suggested that he address me as Roger. Asked why, he said that foreign names were difficult to pronounce. After a moment, I agreed. I then asked if I could address him as Chin. Naturally, he asked why. I then explained that I was more used to Ahmad, Siva, Chin, and so on. Strangely, he was careful thereafter to address me as Raja. What was wrong with Chin, I wondered.

In those early days, it was made clear to us Asian students that we should be grateful for being allowed into the country; and that every Tom, Dick, or Harry could change our names to suit themselves. Indeed, only a couple of years ago, a mature European lady who identified herself as Cat (short for Catherine), found herself addressed as Moggy (a rude description of a feline) by an even more mature Anglo-Australian fellow. It was only when I remonstrated at this vulgar and patronising attitude that he backed off; but not without a parting shot at me about ’You people  over there … …’ And I had lived a full life in Australia for 60 years at that stage. It is sad to see such a display of chauvinism.

Then there was Wilhelm who became Willie at first, then Bill. He hated that. It was only when official multiculturalism policy was introduced that he was able to recover his name. Those Anglo-Aussies who changed the names of foreigners were not tongue-tied or illiterate; they were just arrogant. I did wonder why they were not aware that personal names are truly indicative of one’s heritage and thereby also reflected one’s self-identity.