What’s in a name?

This is an interesting topic that Zoori has brought up in the last blog post.

Unlike our Western counterparts, the Malay naming system is usually First name + Bin (for males) or Binte (for females) + Father’s name. Indians have a similar naming system too. They’d have a First name + son of / daughter of + Father’s name.

Anyway, while I was working in Singapore, I was always addressed as Ms Marina. Once in a blue moon I’d be called Ms Noordin, but I’d be quick to point out that that’s my father’s name.

Once a Malay woman gets married, she has a choice of adopting her husband’s name or keep her own name but be called a Madam instead. My mum for example, she’s either a Mrs Noordin or Madam Sariah.

I know its a polite title. But the thing is, I’m not too fond the label, “Madam”. It makes a woman sound so much older and sterner and unpleasant. I keep thinking of a woman in army uniform commanding her troops to polish their boots, while they scream in unison, “Yes Madam!”

And now that I’m married, sometimes it feels odd when former students continue to call me Ms Marina. And yet, I just can’t bring myself to label myself as Madam Marina. How oppressing it sounds. How ominous it sounds. How … old

Or I could adopt Cart’s last name. But it feels so awkward to me. Don’t get me wrong, Cart has a beautiful last name. And it does sounds quite elegant to be going around being called Signora Marina D’Andrea. And yet, at the same time, I feel kind of unpatriotic to my own Malay-ness by doing that. Maybe it is just me?

Lets put it this way. You are working and your boss lets you know that you have a new co-worker joining you and are informed that her name is Marina D’Andrea. And you think to yourself, “What a pretty name!” and start to imagine a blonde haired Caucasian woman with blue eyes who will be your future co-worker.

And then psyche yourself up so much and then finally … you find out that she’s a Malay … Eh?! What an anti climax! Wouldn’t it be wierd to you? Or is it just me thinking this way?

It sounds awkward enough with parents naming their kids with colourful names like Siti Rihanna Binte Abu. Or Muhammad Beckham bin Bakar.


Danial Alexander Shah Ahmad Mawi bin Abu. Why didn’t you reply when I called your name, sweetie? Because at home, daddy and mummy calls me boy!

I’m just not accustomed to it.

11 thoughts on “What’s in a name?”

  1. The naming conventions in India are as varied as the culture in the country.. The format you mentioned is (esp with the s/o, d/o) most only seen in Singapore..

  2. How about going for a double barreled surname? Hannah enjoys it, she goes on and on about why she has two names and at times it suits her she will say her surname is either just Apps or Shakir. It also means I get to keep my surname officially, although some do refer to me as Mrs. Apps.

    1. For now, I’m keeping my name as it is. How was it for you though? Was there a lot of bureaucratic issues going on? The changing of documents, going to the court, the waiting for the new documents.

      That’s another thing which I am not keen to do because of the “speedy” Italian organization.

      1. At the moment I’m on my maiden name.I couldn’t change before as the Maldivian government wouldn’t allow it, it was hard enough registering the girls’ birth there as well(they are so happy to be dual citizens). I’m changing it to the same as the girls’ when I get naturalized this summer. Suhaib said he would change his surname as well. I’ll let you know how it goes, but I’m not expecting it to be “speedy” either. As far as I can remember, I had to wait 8 months to get “PR” from the time of application.

  3. I have a hyphenated surname just because I got sick of people asking me why I haven’t change my surname after I got married. I changed it after the birth of our son to make things easier for us. You’re right, the Melayuness in me makes it hard for me to drop my maiden surname and it’s also the Melayuness in me that I give my children the most old fashioned Malay/Muslim names as their first names to remind them of their roots.

    1. Oh, you brought up an interesting new topic! Cart and I have been discussing about when we have children, what type of name would we give them. Because names are very important. A strange name give the child difficulties in integrating … I cant imagine how kids could grow up with names like Stan Still or Dill Pickles

  4. The standard naming convention in the Philippines seems to be < last name (father's last name). Really damn confusing.

    When I started looking at US visa forms, to file for my wife, I really started scratching my head. We figured the best way to do it was to make her first first name, her first name. We made her second first name her middle name. As a surname we put my family name. It's traditional for a woman to take the man's last name in the US on marriage, and it would simplify things to just fit her name to the existing social structure in the US. Here in the US, it's . The first and middle names are both given names.

    1. Err. Parts of my comment disappeared when I submitted it.

      Should say:

      standard naming convention in the Philippines is: first name / first name / middle name / last name, with the middle name being the mother’s maiden name and the last name as the father’s last name.

      In the US it’s: first name / middle name / last name.

  5. Quite true abt the wrong image one gets with a European married surname. Time n again, visitors to my office mistook me for the tea lady. I go along with the charades, bringing them their tea’s. I hv my fun watching them go beet red when I settle into my chair in the conference room n say : “Okay gents, shall we begin ?” LOL.

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