Names can be incredibly sensitive and important to some people. Many people would take offense at having their names mispronounced, or even having their names spelled wrongly in emails, text messages or paper notes.
And no, I'm not referring to the wildly inaccurate names that baristas from Starbucks write on your cups.
The connection between Asian countries and western countries has brought about a sharing of cultural knowledge, which is a good thing. It opens our eyes to a world beyond our own.
At the same time, this brings about subtle changes regarding something that gives us our sense of identity: our names. Through western influences, many Asians have adopted the use of English names instead of those that are of their native language. This is done for practical reasons, such as communicating for business deals and social media.
I am Asian, and I immigrated to Singapore from Hong Kong when I was 3 years old. Seeing that I've lived in Singapore almost my entire life, I think I have a pretty good grasp of the culture here.
Over here, we mostly speak English because it helps people of all races and ethnicities communicate. Of course, we all still manage to speak our native languages, thanks to the school curriculum.
At the same time, however, Singaporeans have also developed a special variation of English called “Singlish.” It is a mixture of dialects and English, and it's something that's unique to Singapore.
Despite the deep Asian roots that every race here still lovingly keeps and remembers, many people are identifying themselves using their English names instead of their Asian ones. Why is this the case?
Well, for starters, English names are easier to pronounce and remember. This helps in both work and social life. People can remember you more easily, and this opens up a whole new world of opportunities.
The psychology behind names is very real. However, it should be made clear that having a good name doesn't determine your success. When it comes down to it, your talents, personality, morals and values are the determinants of your journey and successes in life.
There is a kind of distinctiveness in the names of all languages. These names remind us of our origins and motherland, and the rich diversity and culture that our ethnicities have. These names do not set us apart.
Instead, they serve to open up people's mind and hearts to new things, such as food, cultural practices, fashion and entertainment. They help us want to understand other ethnicities better. They help us understand that we shouldn't set people apart based on ethnicities, and that we are all from the same human race.
It's comforting to know that some people here still maintain their Asian names, and introduce themselves as such. For some, this is because their English names are tricky to pronounce. Introducing themselves with their Asian names is easier because they don't have to repeat their English names more than 20 times in order for people to get them right. Others simply do not have English names (and have no desire to have them, either).
As someone who has succumbed to the need for an English name, I always feel stifled when people call me by "Pamela." I feel as if I'm not myself, and that I am another human being called "Pamela."
I felt as though I lost my identity and Asian pride in that English name. Some people may deem this to be silly, but the fact is, my parents only gave me this English name because they believed it would "help me in life."
Therefore, the government imprinted it on my identity card when I was 15 years old. But since I have used my Asian name in all the years leading up to the day I got my identity card, I have already found both myself and my voice in my Asian name.
Admittedly, my Asian name is uncommon – even on Asian terms – and this has made it more difficult to remember and pronounce. Most of the time, I have to repeat my name or spell it out for people.
I remember that when I was younger, I got teased a lot for having my Asian name because again, it was uncommon. I actually find myself having more appreciation for those who call me by my Asian name because it shows that the person was thoughtful enough to remember my uncommon and "weird" name.
I understand that having an English name would be “easier.” But the fact that it's easier should not discount the importance of Asian names, especially for those who actually prefer to be addressed by them.
Sometimes, when I hand over my identity card for identification purposes, I can't help but feel a little offended when the person asks, “So, how are you today, Pamela?”
Why is it so instinctive for people to call me by my English name, especially when it is behind my Asian name? Why doesn't the person say, “I noticed you have two names. Which one is your preferred name?”
Perhaps the context of living in an Asian country that uses English as its first language is confusing to some. Many of my friends who have traveled to other western countries still get asked the question, “Isn't Singapore in Asia? All of you speak Mandarin, right? Why is your English so fluent?”
After all, it is more common to read and speak the language of the country you're from. For example, people in China speak mainly in Mandarin, while people in Japan speak mainly in Japanese.
However, Singaporeans mainly speak in English. So, in that way, I felt like a part of my ethnicity was inevitably getting eroded and diffused. It's almost as if I'm not truly Chinese anymore.
I'm proud of my Asian name, and I wish people would ask for my preferred name instead of assuming that I'd rather be called by my English one. I'm proud to be Asian because Asians have such incredible culture and heritage.
And most of all, I'm proud to be Asian because it's my identity. This is who I am.