Recently I have been feeling uncomfortable with my surname. I love my husband and I am happy to share his name. However, professionally, I feel it isn’t right that I associate my success with a name that I wasn’t born with, i.e. not my own family name.
It is well documented that people with ‘foreign’ names are unlikely to be interviewed for jobs or being promoted to senior positions. It was indeed my experience that I didn’t get my first official interview until I was married in 1992 and I changed my surname. I am accustomed to see the surprise in people’s faces when my name is called in the reception area. Of course, being migrants from Hong Kong in the 1970s, my Mum and Dad gave us British first names to make it easier for myself, my brother and sisters to fit into the life here. Everyone tells me my married name suits me. In reality, I am not sure whether people would expect to see a 5’7” Chinese woman when they call out ‘Nina Munday’.
Being nearly 53 and on a verge of a crossroad in my professional life, and having reflected on the ‘Me Too’ and ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaigns, I ask myself why I have been hiding my heritage for the last 29 years! What has my husband’s surname got to do with my professional achievements? Equally I ask myself would I have had the same professional successes if I had stay with my own family name?
When my family name is written in Chinese, it is beautiful and very respectful. However, when it was anglicised, it became a source of ridicule when I was at school. I am ashamed to say that I became embarrassed by the surname of my father, my granddad and my ancestors.
Two years ago, when an older cousin gave me a memorial booklet celebrating our clanship, I discovered that my family’s name has been passed down through many generations. My siblings and I are part of the 28th generation. Sadly, the records only show the births of sons. I could trace my line by using my father and granddad’s names. I should be proud of my heritage even if it is just a surname. I can hear the sceptics say, ‘that’s a patriarchal line’! With the limited historical information made available because of the sexist world we inherit; I would probably still choose to celebrate my dad’s history over my husband’s.
I also found it to be true that if you want to stay in the system, you need to leave your protected characteristics at home despite working in a field that promotes equality and inclusion. Over the years, I fit into the system so well that I lost a sense of ‘me’, my history, of my culture and my heritage.
I consulted my staff at Fife Centre for Equalities about changing my professional name to my maiden name. People should see that minority ethnic individuals are holding senior positions by looking at the list of staff names in each organisation. There was a lot of support however I understand the potential confusion it may cause to the partners and service users we support. Hence I decided to do a subtle change using the old fashion ‘née’. I am not sure whether people will automatically understand my ethnicity by looking at my name but it is a first step of claiming back my heritage that was robbed from me by the fear of bullies and racists I encountered in my life.
Today onwards, I am proud to introduce myself as Nina Munday née To, daughter of Mr Loy Yau To and granddaughter of Mr Hoi Yau To. 😊