Owning your name

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.”

Racism in the classroom: When even our names are not our own

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.

That time my cat tried to kill me

I don’t like animals much but somehow I ended up with two cats in my house. One is a orange male cat, Callum* and the other a smaller black female cat, Jasmine*. Callum, despite being larger and older, is a little bit of a wimp. Everything scares him, which  I wouldn’t mind so much, except his reaction to scary things (like a piece of newspaper) is often to hiss and wail, and then refuse to pee. The latter, apparently, is extremely dangerous. Anyway, we do what we can to keep him calm, short of wrapping him in cotton wool, which frankly is probably going to freak him out anyway.

But then enters Matt*, a swaggering grey cat who decided that the outside of my house is his playground. Now, you should probably know that Callum is an indoors cat so he doesn’t get to go out much. So you can imagine Callum’s chagrin to discover Matt happily enjoying the great outdoors, literally outside Callum’s door.

Yesterday morning, Callum started howling. I’d just woken up because I’d forgotten it was a public holiday and so did my phone. In my grogginess, I was convinced Jasmine was in danger. Jumping out of bed, I rushed downstairs to see Callum hissing and howling at the window. Matt was here.

Here we have a hissing, howling, angry cat. Then you have me. I decided that the best course of action was not to go back to sleep, pick up Jasmine and lock her in the room with me or anything sensible like that. Instead, I decided that the best course of action was to pick up this angry cat.

Let’s just say he was not impressed by my decision making capabilities and he told me so by mauling my hand, then when I put him down, he emphasised his displeasure by mauling my leg.

It was just a mess of pain and blood. I washed my wounds, then googled ‘cat bites’.


I made my sister drive me to a 24hours doctor who seemed more amused than anything. It was clear he hadn’t googled ‘cat bites’ before. Still he sent me to get my wounds treated and bandages, gave me some antibiotics, painkillers and an exorbitant bill.

A breakfast of toast and eggs rounded up my very exciting morning.

*Names changed to protect the innocent