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  • Kenrick Cheah

What's in a name?


It can be tough growing up in Australia with a non-Anglo name first name. Other kids will very creatively find nicknames that might rhyme or sound like your name, they will tease and make fun.

It’s not a huge thing though, young people tend to point out all kinds of differences in people, from appearance to background, to habits to anything under the sun really. It’s a part of growing up and I dare say it can build character.

However, empirical evidence has shown time and again that in the job markets of Western countries, people with “anglicised” first names receive much more positive attention than those with “ethnic” first names. There are many studies out there that have proven this to be true.

This isn’t a problem limited to Australia, it happens in the United States, it also happens in the United Kingdom. This article isn’t about blame though.

When I completed University, I had a lot of trouble getting through to even the interview stage of recruitment for a job. So much so that my parents decided that I should adopt an “anglo” name to see if it would change my luck. Lo and behold, Wei Lee Cheah couldn’t crack it for an interview anywhere, but Kenrick Cheah got calls for interviews from the very first “whitened” CV I sent out.

When some of my “Aussie” friends found out that this happened to me, they felt surprise and shock.

Rather than labelling this as racism, I feel it is just a subconscious perception. Perception would wrongly lead many to believe, that David Chang is more qualified for a job than Wen Hua Chang. And whose to say that if I was born Anglo and lived life with the name David Smith, that I also wouldn’t fall into this trap.

As Chinese-Australians, most of our 1st generation ABCs are lucky enough to be born with Anglicised first names. Spare a thought for people from other cultures that keep first names from their culture more steadfastly, such as the Sanjeevs, the Mohammads and the Sungs of the world.

As time passes, this discrimination will dissipate. But for now, it’s a part of life that many have to live with. So next time you are looking through a pile of resumes, ask yourself, what’s in a name and will it really affect a person’s ability to do that job.


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