What’s in a name?

Najib attracted my attention. He is not what you say ‘a polished speaker’ so it is hard to listen to him or read what he says. But he got me this time- when he quipped that unlike other neighbouring countries who in the past enforced name changes for non-natives to native names, Malaysia never did.

And for that, we should be grateful.

However Najib – before I actually get to the part dissecting the matter, surely you would understand Umno as a party can never support an effort to localise names.

How can Umno the Malay party, fighting for the rights of one race over other races operate if everyone has a Malay name? They’ve rendered their party meaningless.

Umno is not about playing up Malays, like the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) play up African Americans for equality. Umno builds its theme on the oppression of its constituents by non-natives, and of a struggle to defeat these phantoms.

How to defeat phantoms who have Malay names? And will you know who is a Muslim and not – from all Malaysians? Therefore how can you tell who is a constitutional Malay?

Classroom in Malay names only Malaysia

Teacher: What is your name boy?

Student: Shamsul Tingkat

Teacher: Malay?

Student: Name’s Malay, so I think I am Malay. Am I?

Teacher: You might be, you might not be. You could just be a Chinese Ting with a Malay name

Student: Does that make me any less Malay? And if it does, why should I have a Malay name?

Surely the deputy prime minister has to feel a bit daft making the argument. Surely. Actually not.

While in university debating I have seen all sorts of not so daft blokes making the daftest arguments possible with no sense of, ” Didn’t I just say something stupid?”

Malay names

What would you do with it?

Former Indonesian badminton player and Olympic gold medallist Goei Ren Fang, after his junior playing days went by the name Alan Budi Kusuma.

Cory Aquino was before marriage Cory Cojuangco – name of one of the richest Chinese families of the Philippines. Many Chinese had as family names the complete name of senior and prominent member of the lineage – so that the name sounds less Chinese. Worse in the 1970s in a hostile environment people were coerced to changing.

Same thing in Indonesia and Thailand.

So there are a slew of successful businesspersons from these countries with seemingly native names, but who are in fact not.

These were the examples Najib was talking about.

What is in a name?

A lot really. I can pretty much know what and how most Malaysians who have yet to meet would prepare for me, if they only have my name.

So I suppose – separate to the anti-libertarian nature of forcing people to change names – benefits because names are what people use to understand other people.

Advanced multicultural nations guard against this complacency. They realise if a name matters, then something is wrong with the country.

Overcoming prejudices of names is the starting point and probably the most difficult obstacle to surmount in the path to being a real multiculturalist.

And we are all guilty here. Somehow.

But it really is difficult when the government apparatus is racist. It trickles down.

The iron curtain countries were supposedly communist therefore egalitarian, but minorities were often castigated as a matter of fact by the body politic. And until today, becoming more sensitive to minorities, even those they have lived with for centuries is difficult – the Jews and gypsies. Even visiting blacks face blatant discrimination. Once imbued, it takes national effort to overcome.

Indonesia changed names, it helped, but not enough as seen by the anti-Chinese riots in 1998.

Way forward

Dialogue, has there ever been a better way to grow?

We need to desensitise from names. They are part of a person’s story. That has to be the lesson kindergarten teachers in all centres in Malaysia must do. The value of a child and the adult they become is based on their deeds not their biological or religious inheritance.

That is just an accident.

A nation of laws is also a nation of equality. And equality must be blind to the specific peculiarities of each member.

People must feel that their demand for change or request for more ketchup in a restaurant is not affected by their name.

This is our future challenge, irrespective of government change.

Increase our awareness of people building their perception by names, and confront this approach, think or feel. Ask and engage. No one has to change their mind, but everyone should talk about how they feel.

Fair?

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