What’s my name? Say it!

A friend once asked me why so many Sikhs were named Singh and Kaur. I told him these names were mandatory for Amritdhari Sikhs and common for others, that they served to replace surnames that were caste markers with just two names that had royal associations, and that while there were many Sikhs who were Singhs, there were many Singhs who were not Sikhs.

He listened carefully and replied “Doesn’t that get confusing? I mean all those Singhs running around?”

I burst out laughing. You see my friend’s surname was Smith. And he wasn’t just any Smith, he was a John Smith, and actually a John Smith Jr. at that.

It was funny as a question from a good friend. It was offensive as long running Canadian Policy:

CBC News has obtained a copy of a letter sent from the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi to Singh’s family stating that “the names Kaur and Singh do not qualify for the purpose of immigration to Canada.”

Karen Shadd-Evelyn, a spokeswoman with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, said the policy preventing people from immigrating to Canada with those last names has been in place for the last 10 years.

“I believe the thinking behind it in this case is because it is so common. [With] the sheer numbers of applicants that have those as their surnames, it’s just a matter for numbers and for processing in that visa office.” [Link]

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p>This made absolutely no sense. If you’re processing files, you need to know the name the person had for most of their lives to distinguish them from others, and you can’t go back in time and change it retroactively. If they’re complaining that it’s hard to distinguish the files of one “Ennis Singh” from another once they’ve applied, that’s absurd. You use file numbers not actual names. Lastly, this was a policy solely directed against Singhs and Kaurs, not any other name:

Citizenship and Immigration Canada says there is no such policy against other common last names. [Link]

Even though there are roughly 100 million Zhangs and 93 million Wangs (85% of mainland Chinese have the same 100 names), this policy was in place for Singh and Kaur only? WTF?

The most common Canadian surnames are:

1. Li
2. Smith
3. Lam
4. Martin
5. Brown [Link]

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p>

If the Canadian government can handle all the Browns without confusion, then immigration should have had no problem handling my brown brethren as well.

At first, the government defended their policy which caused even more outrage. Then they back pedaled, claiming that it was all a misunderstanding:

In no way did CIC intend to ask applicants to change their names. The letter that was previously used to communicate with clients was poorly worded. We are making changes to ensure there will be no misunderstandings in the future.

CIC recognizes that previous communications with clients may not have been clear on this issue and regrets any inconvenience this may have caused.

Asking applicants to provide a surname in addition to Singh or Kaur has been an administrative practice used by our visa office in New Delhi as a way to improve client service and reduce incidents of mistaken identity. This was not a mandatory requirement.There is no policy or practice whereby people with these surnames are asked to change their names. [Link]

Riiiiight. Because clients love it when you tell them “You’re cleared for immigration, but just one small thing – you have to change your name.” And of course, it’s simply not true that the name change was optional (see the image below, for example):

When asked if he believes the immigration department’s claim that the policy was just a misunderstanding and that people with the surnames Singh or Kaur were actually allowed to apply, Gahir said, “They were told, unequivocally, `You can’t apply with the surname Singh or Kaur.‘”… [Link]

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p>Feh. At least the Canadian government was shamed into changing their policy. They may not be truly multicultural at heart, but at least they were willing to admit when they were wrong before the issue became an even bigger political liability.

Doesn’t look optional to me

65 thoughts on “What’s my name? Say it!

  1. alybaba

    The CIC has put a statement up on their website

    This letter does not reflect the policy of Canada’s New Government, and I can assure you I have directed the department to ensure that this type of erroneous letter is not sent out again.

    “The practice of asking applicants with the surname “Singh” and “Kaur” to provide an additional surname was designed to help identify and differentiate applicants who shared the same first and last names. Providing an additional surname is entirely voluntary. The policy of Canada’s New Government is that applicants with the surnames “Singh” or “Kaur” may, but are not required to, provide an additional surname

  2. “The practice of asking applicants with the surname “Singh” and “Kaur” to provide an additional surname was designed to help identify and differentiate applicants who shared the same first and last names. Providing an additional surname is entirely voluntary. The policy of Canada’s New Government is that applicants with the surnames “Singh” or “Kaur” may, but are not required to, provide an additional surname”

    Well wouldn’t the same happen with the surname Patel? Or are there just more Patels in the US and more Singhs and Kaurs in Canada? I remember reading somewhere that Patel was the most common Indian surname in the US, not sure if it holds true up north.

    This seems to be a lame answer for what is obviously a act of profiling by the Canadian government.

  3. only hate it when people don’t even try, and then get all offended if it ever comes up that they’ve been mispronouncing. my own name is an example (so mangled for 13 years of school that i barely remembered the proper pronunciation), but also common terms from foreign languages – people just assume that their fellow americans have been pronouncing those words properly all along.

    I guess that is the point I was trying to convey. I dont really mind as long as they make an honest attempt at coming close, epecially if one claims they are buddhist. But who the fuck came up with BOOOOODA. Not a big deal in the big scheme of things. BUt just a lil irritant to me personally. I didnt mean to make it a big issue. I have seen Westerners correct others when their names are pronounced and I have seen Indians and Chinese made fun of when they mispronounce Western names. I am returning the favor.

  4. Well wouldn’t the same happen with the surname Patel?

    Agreed. It was an an earlier draft of my post and got deleted as I made adjustments.

  5. Hey Pravin, Sorry mate. Didn’t mean to pick on you regarding Buddha’s mispronounced name, and I can understand your irritation when someone does that. It’s just that Buddha himself would have cared less, and definitely not hated someone for that. We humans tend to get caught in the talk when we should be looking at the walk.

    Cheers.

  6. I am returning the favor.

    Uh, don’t you mean favour? :P

    You say tomato, I say tomatoe. You say Sikh, I say Seekh. You say Buddha, I say Booda.

    It’s almost Friday people – woo hoo!

  7. stuff like this seems fairly obvious to me. i mean, isn’t it to everyone? that was a stupid and discriminatory policy. but then i read things like this and i choke a little. people can be so …. textbook sometimes that i am surprised they don’t trip over their own cliches.

  8. 47:Alybaba:

    I looked at your blog–there is a lot of haterade in the comments–why–I like the blog….

  9. What’s my name, fool? Say it.<

    This comes, by the way, from Muhammad Ali, who yelled it repeatedly as he beat the crap out of his opponent, Ernie Tyrell, a dedicated racist who refused to use his Muslim name and insisted on calling him Cassius Clay.

    My friend Dave Zirin, who’s a left-wing sportswriter, used it for the name of his first book on the politics of sports. Good stuff.

  10. It’s just that Buddha himself would have cared less, and definitely not hated someone for that.

    what the hell? I don’t care whether the buddha hates me or not. I hate him. Goddamn do-gooder. Here’s what was on my brother’s horoscope. “Scorpio October 24 – November 21 Buddha says that, while he may show you the way, only you can truly save yourself, proving once and for all that he’s a lazy, fat bastard.”

  11. This comes, by the way, from Muhammad Ali, who yelled it repeatedly as he beat the crap out of his opponent, Ernie Tyrell, a dedicated racist who refused to use his Muslim name and insisted on calling him Cassius Clay.

    Oooooh, of course. I knew that and I still forgot. That’s far better than what I had in mind. Yeah, I meant that.

  12. This comes, by the way, from Muhammad Ali, who yelled it repeatedly as he beat the crap out of his opponent, Ernie Tyrell, a dedicated racist who refused to use his Muslim name and insisted on calling him Cassius Clay.

    Tyrell was black, btw.

    On February 6, 1967, Ali returned to a Houston boxing ring to fight Terrell in what became one of the uglier fights in boxing. Terrell had angered Ali by calling him Clay, and the champion vowed to punish him for this insult. During the fight, Ali kept shouting at his opponent, “What’s my name, Uncle Tom … What’s my name?” Terrell suffered 15 rounds of brutal punishment, losing 13 rounds on two judges’ scorecards, but Ali did not knock him out. Analysts, including several who spoke to ESPN on the sports channel’s “Ali Rap” special, speculated that the fight continued only because Ali wanted to thoroughly punish and humiliate Terrell. After the fight, Tex Maule wrote, “It was a wonderful demonstration of boxing skill and a barbarous display of cruelty.” [Link]
  13. Tyrell was black, btw.

    Oh, I totally forgot the whole ‘uncle Tom’ angle to that story! That’s what I get for not refreshing my memory before writing… right on. :)