The student claimed that the newscaster’s pronunciation of his name stopped him from reaching his audience. Then the student said what has been bothering me relentlessly since then, that this—the newscaster’s name as he himself owned it—”wasn’t his real name.”
I was reading this and it made me think about my own experience in the classroom, both as a student and now, as a teacher. As a Malay kid taking Mandarin, the first thing I had to do was have my Malay-ish name translated into Mandarin. I was 7 years old then and randomly chose a translation based on how simple it was to write in Mandarin. Now, my translated name consisted of 3 characters, similar to a traditional Chinese name. In a traditional Chinese name, the first character is the family name and the other two, the given name. In mine, all three characters are my given name.
In class, teachers often called on me using the last two characters, omitting the first character assuming it was my family name. By the time I reached secondary school, I refused to acknowledge anyone who did not use all three characters to call me. Then, I wasn’t sure why, but it annoyed me greatly that my teachers couldn’t be bothered to call me by the name I wanted. But many years later, I understood. It’s bad enough that I had to give up the use of my real name for a translated one, but on top of that, have them to not use it properly pissed me off. No one would expect a Chinese person learning Malay to get their name translated to a Malay name, yet as a Malay girl, I needed to translate my name. I, as a minority, had to give up my identity and name, to the majority because they couldn’t be bothered to learn my name. Tell me that’s not racism.
Today, I don’t use my translated name any more. I don’t like it (and never have). And in the classroom as a teacher, I am very careful about learning my students’ names as they want to be called. As a teacher and as a person who passes for Chinese, I am aware of the power I hold in the classroom and I don’t want to be that teacher who doesn’t care enough for my students to not even bother to call them by the name they want to be called.