By Lui Xia Lee
Individuality is celebrated and accommodated in the Western world, yet the diverse nature of names are not. That is to say, names which don’t fit into the westernization of culture are not as accepted.
Every year foreign students arrive in Canada to further their studies. In 2014 alone, the Canadian Bureau for International Education reported that Canada received 336,497 international students. All of these students have unique names. When introduced, they say their name and usually the first response they receive is: “What?” or “Do you have an English name?” Instead of: “Can you say that again?” or “How do you pronounce that?” I know this from the experiences of my friends and from my own interactions.
It may seem like the most convenient way to remember someone is if they have an anglicized name, but honestly, it sounds like micro-aggression. What happened to celebrating individuality? People will make the effort to properly pronounce non-English names such as “Wasikowska,” “Nikolaj,” and “Tchaikovsky,”—what makes these names easier than others?
My name is Lee Lui Xia. I had to accommodate to the Western system by reordering my name, making it Lui Xia Lee. My first name is Lui Xia, not Lui alone. Due to the system, unless I put a hyphen or attach Lui and Xia together, my first name will remain Lui, as demonstrated in my struggle whenever registering for official documents.
I spoke to Dorothy Cheng Chia Huey, a Malaysian student, who encountered difficulty when registering for an Ontario photo ID. Cheng has two given names, Dorothy and Chia Huey. In several parts of Asia people have two names: one anglicized and one of ethnic origin. The order begins with the given anglicized name, surname, and then the given ethnic name. So Dorothy would be her anglicized name, Cheng would be her surname, and Chia Huey would be her given ethnic name.
When a Canadian officer first questioned Cheng regarding her name, Cheng explained the order to them. She said the officer insisted that Cheng’s name would have to appear on her ID as “Dorothy Huey” instead of “Dorothy Cheng” because that was how it appeared on her Malaysian passport. Cheng’s Malaysian passport does not specify her first and last name, it just provides a section to include her full name, Dorothy Cheng Chia Huey.
Cheng again explained the situation and that it would create more problem for other registrations if the ID were to show Huey as her last name. To this, Cheng said the officer responded by saying, “This is not China!”
It’s understandable that the officer was unable to understand names that are culturally and ethnically different from their own, but what struck me as was the officer’s response. Not only was it rude, but also ignorant since they were holding a Malaysian passport, not a Chinese one.
“It makes more sense for Canada to accommodate their multicultural residents with more updated training and better cultural understanding, than for other countries, notably Asian and African countries, to change their entire cultural expression to accommodate western systems by having passports that go ‘First Name, Middle Name or Initial, Last Name,’” Cheng said.
According to the 2011 National Household Survey, Ontario has over 3.6 million “foreign-born individuals.” With the Liberal government’s work to bring in as many as 50,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of 2016, Canadians should be more understanding of incoming multicultural residents. We should be increasingly considerate by educating ourselves in terms of varying cultures. If we are celebrating individuality, let’s make an effort to be informed.
Lui Xia Lee is a first year journalism student from Malaysia. She loves learning about new cultures and trying out new food. Ultimately, she wants to return to Malaysia and, one day, help improve the position of her country’s press freedom.