August 20, 2008

#30 Reinventing Their Names

What’s in a name? For Malaysian people, a lot. When you next talk to your Malaysian friend, try asking them about their name and its origins. There is probably a deep seated meaning and history behind their name but unfortunately, you’ll never find out what it is because Malaysian people adopt new monikers or alter their names as soon as they develop social awareness.

Malaysian people are aware that their names are not just a string of alphabets thrown together. Names reflect their personalities and background. Therefore they take great steps to alter their names to convey the sort of persona they desire. For some Malaysian people who were given more conservative and ethnically influenced names, it is a good idea to shorten them or perhaps add an English name. For instance; a name like Katijah could be shortened to "Kat" or maybe even “K”. Another example would be someone with the name Chong Ah Kow repackaging himself as Engelbert Chong to project maturity and sophistication.

For some Malaysian people who lack imagination, they simply form an acronym with their initials; Palanivel Janarthanan would henceforth be known as “PJ”. There are also some who deem their names not rexotic or unique enough and thus find solace in names such as Nanako or Ferrari. Once in awhile, you might encounter a Malaysian with a name like Sarah Dominique Lee. Notice that it contains only an ambiguous surname, a middle name and betrays no sign of the ethnicity. This is a well planned and foresightful method to naming children. A Malaysian person with this form of name at birth will have a head start in life.

The subtle changes made to their names ensure the Malaysian person’s desired personality is effectively communicated (pronunciation and spelling is arbitrary). However, given the inherent Malaysian need to one-up others, many have begun resorting to more extreme measures, resulting in names that have yet to appear on any birth certificate in history (Million, Celestial, Che Gustafa, Zique, Rikosama, Xobile!).

If you come across such colorful Malaysians, you must first smile and nod in quiet appreciation of their creativity in coining such a semantic symphony. Next, ask them what it means. Their answer is likely to be trifle but that doesn’t matter. The point is that you gave them a chance to talk about themselves which will sufficiently endear you to them. To seal the deal, stare admiringly at them and say, "Whoa. That is so deep."


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more but what irks me even more is that these self given names don't last long. They would wanna be called Sarah Dominique Lee but they might change their mind and demand to be called Monique Lee a year later.


Anonymous said...

You forgot those with Japanese names like Yuki, Miyuki, etc.

I'm just waiting for Malaysians to go more global and take up Hungarian names like Laszlo, Zoltan, or Ferenc. Or maybe something Russian. Russian names are cool...

stockname said...

good article.

Gallivanter said...

Just look at Singapore and their kiasuness of unique names. I've met a lady called Green before, and a dude named Bear. LOL.

There was also an Auspicious Chia in Singapore! Oh the drama!

Suz said...

hehehehe... I came across this girl called Remember and her surname was Ngo. Serious!!! Yes, we definately remember her well.

synical said...

Half the people I went to school with suddenly have angmo names on Facebook - which makes me wonder if they want to project an image of sophistication or if they're seriously ashamed of their given names.

The gahmen department in charge of registering births have a list of names you can't name your kids. (NRD I think, but I could be wrong).

I'd pick an angmo name for myself but since I can't decide, and I've no issues with my given name :P

I can't stand people who would call themselves Apple, Orange, etc.

Keong said...

Hilarious, but how ironic.
I lack creativity personally and prefer to seek solace in my given name.
Those weird names are just too pretentious.
Names are what we are all about from birth.

I think a change of name is only necessary should the name sound offensive in a given language which is not uncommon given the cumber of Chinese dialects we have in Malaysia.

Just to share this.. I've heard of some given 'family' name such as Rocky,Boulder and Pebbles.
Now that's what I call Family !

B.H. said...

Abi- That's the whole point isn't it? Self appointed names provide flexibility and ease of change.

K Law- I did mention some Japanese influenced names but thank you for the suggestions, they will be saved for future posts. I personally would like to see a Malaysian adopt African names that have clicks in their pronunciation. Do svidaniye.

Stockname- You're too kind.

Gallivanter- Why not make it a sure thing and call themselves "Prosperous", "Billionaire" or "Success" instead?

Suz- I have a friend called Lei Kong Siew.

Synical- You wouldn't happen to know this girl named Banana Chew would you?

Keong- Thanks for sharing. With regard to thematic names, that is the funniest thing I have ever heard. I wish I knew about it and could've included it in the post.

I'm quite sure Pebbles was kidnapped from the Flinstones though. You might want to alert the authorities.


Anonymous said...

Hahahaha bro this is good.....then again I wonder what u thought when I first intoduced my self hahahaha must have thought I was full of myself hahaha.......... But I totaly agree just stick to your name no matter how cultural it may be dont add an ish it sound irratating....ISh!!

Anonymous said...

I have colleagues in HKG named Happy, Bonia, Tiger; a Malaysian colleague called Century (I can't bring myself to calling him by that name!!)Some even changed their names along the way like the singer - formerly known as The Prince!

B.H. said...

Anslem- Your name does not contain any element of pretense but I can't say the same for your person.

Anonymous 3.47 pm- Typical of the Malaysian to upstage everyone. Soon some one will attempt to one-up him by naming themselves Millennium, Quantum or Infinite.


Anonymous said...

Hahaha! It's actually !Xobile. You had the question mark on the other end. :)

?Xobile works too.

I know someone called Purple. And once a teacher accidentally called her Orange. Oh yea, the teacher was Indian so, you could imagine the accent. (no offence)
"Orange!" *seconds later* "Orange?"
"You mean Purple?"
"Ahh, yes, I knew it was some colour.."

Anonymous said...

I mean exclaimation mark. **

synical said...

NO, I don't know a Banana Chew, or any Chew I know that would adopt the Banana moniker. :P

kaioucat said...

Auspicious Chia seals the deal for funniest name ever!

I have a feeling all these trying-too-hard-to-be-unique names come from the HK culture. I've heard names like Umbrella and Apple in HK dramas since I was very young...more than 10 years ago.

B.H. said...

Anonymous 6:27 pm- Thanks for pointing out the gaffe but I suppose we're not really sticking to the cource material here.

Maybe your teacher was color blind.

Synical- It's supposed to be a play on words. What's Banana in Cantonese?

Kaioucat- Auspicious is alright but I'm waiting to see someone call themselves "Awesome". Imagine that. My name is Man, Awesome Man.


Sparkles said...

I am one of the many Malaysians that adopted an English name when I left home to continue my studies overseas..for practical reasons, not to reinvent myself. I love my Chinese name.

Anyway, at least I picked a common and easy to remember English name..I can't say the same for my ex-classmates in TAR College.

I met Fellest, Ruler, Jeachris, Velmic and Reiiko there.

synical said...

Haha... touche :P

s kim said...

oh my favorite is when ah bengs try to hit on you and they tell you their name is "ben".

i have the worlds coolest name.

B.H. said...


I think they meant the G in Beng is silent.


Jervynna Y. Y. Teh said...

i love my parents for giving me my name! =D hahaa.. a dash of uniqueness and creativity. not forgetting my chinese roots, i have a chinese name too=D

s kim said...

yea i know that's why it's so amusing.

Jervynna said...

i was just thinking, what if your parents named u anonymous =D haha.. will it mean u can name urself anythng?

B.H. said...


I think you would then be called The Anonymous Formerly Known As ___


Add 8 + 4 said...

i think i know Mr PJ personally!! we call him palat instead of his own nicknamed PJ. lol.

nice artical tho.

B.H. said...

Kevin/ ADD 8+4,

Will add that to his growing list of sobriquets.

Thanks for the compliment and the link.


Penance said...

Hi B.H, I have a friend whose real name is Ferrari.

Now we call him Enzo.

B.H. said...


I'm more intrigued by your name. Do you know anyone by the name Repent per chance?

Thank you for sharing, it was quite an amusing anecdote.


Poppy said...

What's creative is the ethnic names made to sound like Western ones, eg

Jeya "Call me Jay" Subramaniam
Lee Toh Mas
Tan Win Son

zewt said...

hahahahah Xobile! .... hahahahaha....

i have blogged something like this before. definitely a malaysian evolution. a lot of ethan and ashlyn and cashlyn and eshlyn brooding everywhere.

Anonymous said...

Took me time to read the whole article, the article is great but the comments bring more brainstorm ideas, thanks.

- Johnson