Double-barrelled surname sounding like CNY

From ‘Bound together in name’, 30 Dec 2012, article by Lisabel Ting, Sunday Lifestyle

When freelance writer Yu-Mei Balasingamchow was in school, examinations were more of a nightmare for her than for most other students. “It was really troublesome to fill in my name on optical answer sheets. Sometimes, by the time I was done, it felt like half the exam had gone by,” says the 38-year-old.

Ms Balasingamchow’s unique last name is an amalgam of the names of her parents – Chow is her Chinese mother’ family name, and Balasingam is the name of her half-Chinese, half-Ceylonese father.

Her parents created it to “give people an idea of my heritage, although they did acknowledge that it would be troublesome”, she says.

…Double-barrelled surnames such as Ms Balasingamchow’s seem to be more acceptable now, and raise fewer eyebrows than in previous generations.

Mrs Wendy Chiang-Cheong, 40, who wed in 1998, recounts that her mother did not take similar steps to retain her family name as it was uncommon then.

…Mrs Chiang-Cheong, who is married to a 41-year-old IT project manager, admits that her last name can be quite a mouthful. “Some people have told me that my last name sounds very noisy and reminds them of Chinese New Year,” says the counsellor.

If you’re a member of British royalty in the 1930’s you could collect women surnames like Pokemon. There was an Earl of Buckinghamshire called John Hampden Hobart-Hampden-Mercer-Henderson, which made it much easier to just refer to him as the Earl of Buckinghamshire. Today if you want to sound like a conqueror you don’t need multiple surnames. You just need to give yourself a name like Romeo Tan. 

Having a double-barrelled surname that is onomatopoeia for cymbals clamging or almost a soundalike for a dim sum staple is awkward, but not as awful as the wacky permutations that Tweeters contributing to the hashtag #SurnameMashups have come up with. Here’s a sample of dual combinations of Chinese surnames that you may wish to avoid adopting or bequeathing to your children:

Hong-Gan, Chee-Tan, Long-Kang, Yam-Seng, Ngiam-Kheng, Seow-Leow. And the list goes on.

Some would use hyphenated/combined surnames to their advantage as a killer ice-breaker and personal marketing tool. Yu-Mei Balasingamchow herself mentioned in an interview that her surname made her more ‘Google-able’. Try it yourself (type Balasingamchow) and you’ll find her filling the entire first search page. And just about every page thereafter.

Even if, thankfully, your double-barrelled name doesn’t sound like food, drains, toasting or Hokkien expletives, there’s the question of order: Husband or wife’s surname first? This was a question posed since the early 1980s, when women were already using such combinations professionally. Without any formal convention on how hyphenated names should be arranged, you’d have people second guessing your actual maiden name.  Or perhaps the order is chosen solely to avoid the catastrophic reverse; Tan-Chee, for instance.

In fact, double-barrelled names were actively DISCOURAGED by the Registry of Births in 1981, when there was the possibility of quadruple surnames if two individuals with dual surnames married and had children. Things would get more complicated if you were of mixed race. If you took up your Caucasian husband’s name entirely, you may be accused of ‘selling out’ your Asian heritage. Yet, too much cross-fertilisation to the extent of triple and quadruple-barrells would make you sound like a theory discovered by a team of physicists or mathematicians rather than an actual person. And if pulled off creatively, that may not be a bad thing after all.

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