t Double Yellow's Musings: What's in a (sur)name?
The warped mind of Double Yellow craves for humor everyday. His daily dose comes from The Straits Times, The Sunday Times, Today, Channelnewsasia, etc. He also thinks that because of this preamble, this blog will never get featured in the local media. And of course, please read the Disclaimer before embarking on the journey.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

What's in a (sur)name?

Fill up any form and you can be rest assured that they will ask you for either your first and surname or full name (usually with the surname underlined). This of course, is not something uniquely Singaporean but it is nevertheless….ummm…..irritating. Seriously, what is a surname? Why do any of us need one? What purpose does it exactly serve?

Surnames are very interesting. The Chinese use family names for generations – Tan, Lee, Chong etc. The angmohs also have a family name or sometimes use the father’s name as the surname – Robert Brown, John Doe etc. At times, I have seen them use Jr – Robert Brown Jr. The Indians in Singapore prefer to the fathers name as their surnames – s/o and d/o Letchumannan. I’ve met Indians who use their grandfather’s names, their family occupations (although they are not in that occupation anymore) or places they were born. I don’t think the angmohs can have the latter because their names will look like - Robert Arizona, John New York or Jack Sydney :) The Chinese in Singapore also cannot – Bukit Batok Jack, Tampines Seng – sounds more like gang member names :) Interestingly, the Malays (or for that matter Muslims) don’t have surnames!

According to Merriam-Webster, a surname is “the name borne in common by members of a family”. Ancestral lineage seems to be important. If your family heritage is something to be proud of and hence you want to showcase your roots to the whole world. Practically speaking, you want to make use of all the clout you can from your surname. But how many of us are from clans what wield a lot of influence today? Also, many of the family names that do exert power have very common surnames. Take Singapore for instance….if your name is Lee Tok Kok, do you think you would exercise any kind of authority? :)

From a very practical perspective, having surnames helps distinguish between two people with the same first name. In school, if there are two people with the same first name, it can lead to the wrong person doing the extra homework. In the army, you could be the wrong person being dunked under water. This reason of insisting people to have surnames to differentiate them is in my opinion, really pathetic. Surely, we can be more creative….

I also think surnames are sexist. I mean, why should one always take on the surname from the paternal side? Indeed, in almost all societies, when women get married they usually take on the surname of the husband. This I’m afraid is the most pitiable situation when it comes to surnames today. It’s easy for detractors to say that if you don’t like your surname, get your name changed. But that is not what I am talking about. Why does society need to have the norm of a surname in the first place?

In short, my point is this…every individual should not only have a choice of what surname he/she wants but also a choice whether to have one in the first place.


Blogger Ren said...

actually angmohs of ago use areas, occupations and ancestors names in their surname. It is just that some desendants along the way decided to change it a bit sometimes. Like Landon (for London) and York. There are names like waterman (someone who worked around water?) and Jameson as in son of James.

11:00 AM  
Blogger doubleyellow said...

Hey ren, didnt know abt that - thanx! i wonder how many of the angmohs today with surnames Landon, York and Jameson even realize the significance of the surname :) And for those who do, i wonder how many of them actually want to keep it :p

5:36 PM  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

A nice-sounding surname goes a long way.... :)

It can also enhance the 'bonding' among family members...hehe

7:25 AM  
Blogger doubleyellow said...

heheh yeah, it does help to bond family but instead of using the farder or marder's name, they shd use the soccer club the family supports :p like Chok Meng Liverpool or Ashriff Real Madrid :)

11:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Surnames are there to prevent inbreeding. Its ancient intelligent, way ahead of the word sexist...and blog. Which is why certain race are inferior.

12:08 AM  
Blogger doubleyellow said...

i think the 'anonymous' race is inferior...how abt that? :)

12:56 AM  
Blogger wingéd densetsu said...

Hey anonymous, I think it's really sad that you need surnames to tell yourself that xxx is your cousin just so that you can prevent inbreeding! oO;;

2:25 AM  

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