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What's in a Name?

My name is Anu Kanagasabai. It is pronounced exactly the way it is written; no silent letters, no special characters.

My name is Anu Kanagasabai. It is pronounced exactly the way it is written; no silent letters, no special characters. When people have trouble with the pronunciation of my name, I simply tell them to say, "A NEW CAN OF GAS TO BUY" as fast as they can. This is a tried and tested solution that has a 100 percent success rate. Go ahead, try it! Colleagues and friends have always been able to remember my name after becoming familiar with this phrase. On the downside, with the current state of fuel prices I might need to think of new ways to have people remember my name!

A Telemarketer’s Nightmare

Tamil names are the nightmares of telemarketers, news reporters, HR personnel and teachers alike. I was always certain that when a substitute teacher had stopped to take a deep breath, they had arrived at my name on the attendance sheet. In school, I did not have much of a choice in shortening my name. In fact, it never crossed my mind even though I went through the Canadian education system from the elementary level.

In the professional realm, most of us have the option of shortening our names on our resumés, business cards, e-mail addresses and even our voicemail greetings. I once entertained this idea myself; to use ‘Anu Kana’ on my first ever voicemail greeting and e-mail address. But I dismissed this idea just as quickly as I thought it. I decided that I was going to stick with my real name and make people learn how to pronounce it!

Are We the Only Ones?

Many European names are just as "difficult" to pronounce as ours, if not, even more so. Nevertheless, due to the large volume of European hockey players in the NHL, broadcasters can fluidly pronounce names such as ‘Khabibulin,’ ‘Konstantinov,’ ‘Datsyuk’ and so forth. George Stroumboulopoulos and Zach Galifianakis are just a couple of names in the entertainment industry that are also difficult to pronounce. Many Westerners have learned to pronounce them because Europeans have kept the integrity of their family names.

On the other hand, East Asians are similar to Tamils in that they change their unique names to facilitate their assimilation into the Western Culture. East Asians commonly receive a Western name from either their parents or through school. I once knew a Van Vu in the first grade. He now goes by ‘Jimmy.’ Chinese, Japanese and Korean names are written with the family name first and the given name(s) next. East Asians who immigrate to Western countries reverse this order to be synchronous with Western naming conventions. A popular exception to this scenario is basketball player Yao Ming, whose surname is actually Yao.

What’s the Big Deal?

I have a confession to make. My full first name is Anuruddran. Although my parents gave me this name, not even they refer to me by my full name. In fact, no one has ever referred to me by my full name. This is simply why I go by ‘Anu’. And yes, a lot of times I get mistaken for a girl when people see my name, but that’s something I can live with. I accept and embrace my name, but I don’t know if that is something I can say about every Tamil individual that grew up here. Ladies, how many Tamil guys have you come across named ‘Shawn,’ when their real names are something totally different?

We think we’re doing non-Tamils a favour by shortening our names, but in doing so we are losing a piece of our identity with every dropped letter. Let’s learn to embrace our names for the cultural and religious values they hold. Since we are butchering our names at the corporate level, does that mean we are going to see abbreviated Tamil names on sports jerseys and movie credits? For a race that has been through as much trials and tribulations as ours, something as simple as a name may be all we have left in retaining our unique identity. So, why not keep it?

- Anu

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