Ours is a very settled suburb. A combination of old families who’ve lived in the area all their lives, plus houses rented out to students who study at the local TAFE nearby.

Around ten years ago a new neighbour moved in across the back. We shared the back fence. She came around to introduce herself. “My name is Pei.”

I said, “What a lovely name. Spelt ‘P’, ‘e’, ‘i’?”

“Yes,” she said “Most people can’t spell it. I have an English name, too, if you’d prefer. It’s Susan.”

(Naturally I call her Pei, as that’s how she introduced herself.)

That was the last time a non-Anglo introduced themselves to me with a secondary Anglicised name.

Pei moved out six years ago, downsizing so her son and his family could live in the larger house. She came around to see us not long ago to talk about the back fence, which needs replacing.

“Hi,” she said. “I don’t know if you remember me, but it’s Pei, who owns the house across the back.”

She didn’t bother with the Anglicised name, probably hasn’t used it in years.

It used to be a thing, choosing an English name when you have a—to native English speakers—hard-to-pronounce name. It doesn’t seem to happen now. I can tell you it definitely doesn’t happen at work, or not the ones I knew. The non-Anglos I worked with had names like Kuo, Deepti, Shanshan and Xo.

Even when we went cruising, where the crew often come from countries like Indonesia or the Philippines, the staff used their own names. Agung, and Jesus, Jayachandra and Sanjay.

Until this last cruise.

Our Filipino room steward was Paul. Our Indonesian waiters in the dining room were Stanley and Rose. Upstairs in the buffet Sandra was another Filipino, while Wendy hailed from Xi’An (Terracotta Warrior country), in China. These people went home—to Indonesia, to the Philippines, to China—on their breaks. They’d be unlikely to choose Anglicised names anywhere but on the ship, and I’m quite sure their family and friends didn’t call them Stanley, Sandra, Wendy and Paul.

I didn’t get a chance to ask why they’d chosen Anglicised names. It’s not something you can ask, really—“Excuse me, were you told to pick English names or was it your choice?”—but I went home from the cruise feeling uncomfortable about it. It had that vague feeling of how the British used to call their Irish servants names like Jane and Rose and Lizzy because they found their actual names, like Maebh and Siobhan, too hard.

3 replies on “Names”

What a thought provoking post, Karen, so thank you. I have to think of my daughter who has been living in South Korea for ten years now; she teaches English conversation to adults. Her true name, to Korean ears, is the name of an animal, so she elected to use an alternate pronunciation of her name. It might be as if you were to call yourself KAYREN or KIRAN.

That’s a good way to do it.

I wouldn’t mind being translated as cat, but maybe not dog or donkey. Although, I must say, one of my favourite k-dramas had a policeman they called ‘Dog’. (Sadly, he met a bad end. I cried so much.)

Yes, cat wouldn’t be bad. I think her name sounds like crab!

P.S. That is a very attractive visual at the top of this post.

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