Just a Boy Named Joy

English is the world’s language of business, but people with Asian
names often find something is added in the translation” Nury Vittachi said.

Read her little tale about Names and identites:-
“I HATE MY NAME. I always have and expect I always will. Asian names
(such as my girlish one) are a burden in an English-dominated world.
That’s why we often change them. We like to re-brand ourselves by
flicking through English dictionaries.

In my home town, Hong Kong, examples literally abound. Meet Anorak
Chen, Sicky Tang, Green Show, Pubic Ha, Chocolate Lin, Alien Lee,
Twinkie To, Ivan Ho, Piano Chow. These are all real people. In my
younger days, I used to eat at the McDonald’s in Tsim Sha Tsui,
Kowloon, served by staff whose personal names were Army, Incredible
and Normal.

Sometimes Asians have stunningly unsuitable names. I hadn’t the
courage to tell He Man and Truly Man–two girls from Kowloon–that
their names lacked femininity.

Sometimes names are ideal. The official appointed in mainland China to
deal with music copyright was a Mr. Song. And a garage employee in
Hong Kong carries the name To Bar, pronounced “Tow Bar.”

The habit of adopting memorable English names doesn’t just apply to
China, of course. In the Philippines, Resurrection De Jesus is a
personal name (and a lot to live up to). In India, people often have
English names summing up their jobs. Reader Noel Rands told me of a
friend named Yasmin Sodabottlepopbottleopenerwallah. That’s her real,
legal name. If she ever gets to be India’s premier, we’ll never be
able to fit her into REVIEW headlines. This alone should surely
disqualify her from standing.

My personal name (the full version is Nuryana) is an Islamic one that
unfortunately sounds extremely feminine in English-speaking
communities. I spent my entire childhood listed on the girls’ register
at various schools, and for the last 20 years have received mail
addressed to “Ms. Vittachi.” In the past few days, I have met a
Bangladeshi man named Joy and a Chinese chap named Penny who live
similarly miserable lives.

Yet one can’t just abandon one’s name. The underlying meanings of
people’s names are believed to shape the lives of the people who carry
them. My name and my brother’s were chosen with the help of an
Indonesian mystic and spiritual leader. My name means “illuminator”
and my brother Adil’s name means “justice.” Since I grew up to become
a journalist and my brother became a lawyer, this is clear proof of
one thing: God has a fine sense of irony. Lawyers? Justice?

Also, there’s a belief in Asia that if your name changes by itself
(for example, if a nickname becomes more commonly used than your given
name), then your actual character will be fundamentally altered.

Some people have tried to comfort me by pointing out that as the
influence of China grows, Asian names will stop standing out like sore
thumbs. Don’t believe it. The vast majority of Chinese family names
are a single syllable like Ho or To or So, so things will be worse for
people with mile-long Indian or Sri Lankan names like Maharajapuram
Kanagaratnum. And what about people in Bangkok (which in Thai is
Krungthepmahanakorn) who also sometimes have many letters in their

For this writer, “Chinese-ification” has been an interesting
experience. Cantonese accents change some standard English sounds. At
the shop near the REVIEW office where I buy my breakfast, the staff
have been struggling with my name for months. The first month: “Noo
Ree.” Second month: “Noo Wee.” Third month: “Loo Wee.” Fourth month:
“Lewis.” Now, staff politely addressed me as “Louise.” I don’t object.
Louise is a nice name, though it’s not really “me.”

But since my name has changed, does this mean my fundamental character
is changing? Am I no longer an illuminator, but a French female? I
don’t notice any change in my dress sense, but if I start hankering
for Chanel-scented Gauloises, I’ll let you know.”

Note: This story is taken from Far Eastern Economic Review ,Issue cover-dated October 28, 2004.

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