Why I’m Seriously Considering Changing My Ethnic Name for Work

What’s in a name? A lot more than first thought, apparently.

It’s almost an Australian rite of passage to have your name cut in half and adding some sort of suffix to the end of it. It symbolised that you made it, you were part of the cool kids, you were finally accepted. But when I was called “Maddy” instead of “Madhurima” by my Year 7 roll call teacher, I couldn’t respond. I didn’t recognise the name at all. He repeated my name – my full name this time – in a lower, more disappointed tone, to which I meekly responded to and then proceeded to slump down in my chair, making myself as invisible as possible.

That encounter stayed with me for a long time. I’m not sure if it was because I thought it was a funny cultural mishap or because it actually hurt me. But never did I imagine that in adulthood, I would consider being known professionally by that very same name.

It’s not something that I really want to do, but it’s slowly becoming apparent that this is something I should seriously consider. Last week, a report by Media Diversity Australia revealed that only 11.4% of Australian TV presenters, reporters, and commentators are from either Indigenous or non-European backgrounds. And although you’d think that would strengthen my resolve to continue my career in media with my real name, it just confirmed the exhausting reality of being a BIPOC in the media industry.

I could continue to stand up for myself and press on for more diversity. But what would that do for me? I don’t want to die a death of a thousand cuts. I don’t want to be made to feel othered through the sound of my name being mispronounced every time I attempt to network, or ask for my “diverse” viewpoint to be accommodated. The burden shouldn’t be on me as an employee to ask to be treated with respect by superiors and colleagues who should be doing that anyway.

It may be a better option to create a whole new persona, with a whole new name. Sure, I would be erasing my culture along with my identity. But I would be able to create a whole new identity that caters to the industry that I work in. It would be exhausting to uphold all the time, but it also helps protect the sanctity of my real name by erasing the emotion and connection I feel towards my real name and my real identity.

It relieves the huge burden of having to juggle two different identities and calculating constantly in my head how “ethnic” I can afford to act, before I end up saying something that points out the inadequacies in the way POC are treated in the office. Or the micro-aggressions that colleagues may have committed, thus creating even more tension in my relationship with people in the workplace.

Sure, I might be signalling to employers that I am more ‘flexible’ because I’ve already accepted the realities of the industry and have assimilated by changing my name for their comfort. After all, for employers it’s a win-win situation when they find someone who is by nature willing to compromise – while incidentally also fulfilling the diversity quota.

By changing my name and showing them what a ~chill~ person I am, I might even be showing that I am willing to be tokenised if it allows them to profit off my diverse experiences. They may ask me to publish simplified sob stories about how it felt to grow up in a racist country to show that “our voices have been heard” and to pass themselves off as a progressive company for even giving us a chance to tell a story that the public is sick of hearing.

But we can’t escape the fact that these sanitised versions of our cultural backstories are some of the only “diverse” stories being published. It’s the sad reality of our society, but we are definitely much more behind than we should be.

We should be celebrating the differences in our cultures and how they enhance our society instead of having to list all the ways in which they make us feel smaller.

But unfortunately, the only time the media wants to hear culturally inclusive viewpoints is when they have been cut down into a version that is palatable for them.

Hopefully we can move past this reductive version of our stories to focus on more complex and interesting issues affecting children of the diaspora. But until then, I guess I’ll be calling myself by a name that’s completely unfamiliar to me.

Image Source: Christina Morillo from Pexels

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