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What’s in a Name, Really?

Posted: 23 Oct 2013 09:05 AM PDT

What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
- Shakespeare

When my friend asked me to write for LoyarBurok, I expressed reservations.  They want to know my full name, I said.  My real name.  Bonnie was quick to impress upon me that there is no reason for me to hide behind a pseudonym unless I am planning on promoting some falsehood in my writings.  No, I am not.  Unemployed, I am also not governed by any employment terms and conditions barring me from writing for LoyarBurok.  Then, just use your real name, Bonnie said.

There is really nothing embarrassing about my name on my NRIC, although the pronunciation of my middle name may clearly identify my gender to all and sundry.  Bonnie said that is a positive sign – historically many female authors used male names in order to increase sales or to conform to social norms.  Since I am writing neither to build up a readership nor to create a following, there is no need to mask the fact that I am a Romeo rather than a Juliet.  Nor is it necessary to adopt some androgynous name like Robin, Sunny, Chris, etc.  I argued that writers do use pseudonyms, and some do so just to keep a low profile.

Back in the 1980s, a friend of mine found a new faith and adopted a new name which she enthusiastically used as her new byline in her news articles.  Love makes us do crazy things sometimes, including changing our name.  When her love story tapered off prematurely, she called me every other week about how to win back his heart.  My advice to her was let it go if she had to.  I also wickedly told her that with her new religion and name, she could soon be someone else's second, third or fourth wife, legally. So, relax! A few months later, she moved to an English daily, and started writing under her birth name again. Her calls resumed, asking me for advice about executing a deed poll to renounce her religion. I was by no means a lawyer, nor pursuing my LLB or some Syariah law qualifications, and was certainly in no position to advise her on such matters.  I pacified her to let the matter rest since she had not changed the name in her NRIC to reflect her faith.  That was way before MyKad started including religion on its microchip.

So, what's in a name really?  Sadly, in Malaysia, more often than not, our names help others to identify our ethnicity right away.  And sometimes, our religious beliefs, too.  All this does not augur well for national unity, does it?  While we can ignore the race or ethnic column or box on an application form, our names often betray us.

Some of us thought that all the racial undertones as well as blunt rhetoric in the run up to the GE13 would die after polling day, but the subsequent party elections gave rise to a new wave of it.  In moving towards forging national unity, it is times like this that I wish I have a truly Malaysianised name which identifies me as being Malaysian above everything else, not my ethnicity.  I do get envious of Swedish singer Jennifer Brown, who very well by name alone could be white or black, or even brown.

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