New name, new me? More opt for change

Personal trainer Sixx Ng had her name changed via a deed poll two years ago. She chose Sixx – with the extra x to make it “more cool and unique” – as the number was associated with her pager code as a teenager.
PHOTO: Shutterstock.com

SINGAPORE - More people are changing their names legally and the rise is partly the result of new citizens from China hoping to fit in better here.

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) has been getting about 6,000 applications a year over the past three years from people wanting to change their names in their identity cards, up from about 4,800 a year a decade ago.

Lawyers say they have been seeing a growing number of China- born individuals who change their names after getting Singapore citizenship or permanent residency.

Lawyer Eben Ong, whose firm does a few hundred deed polls a year for new migrants, said: "We don't ask why they change their names, but I gather the new immigrants just want to blend in with our local culture."

While the new citizens often take on common English or Christian names, some Chinese also change their hanyu pinyin names into dialect names that look more like Singaporean Chinese names.

So someone with the pinyin surname Wang may change his name to the dialect Wong, or a given name like Huisi may be changed to Wai See.

And unlike dialect names where each syllable is spelt separately, the characters in a pinyin name are combined into one word. For example, Tan Geok Mui (dialect name) is Chen Yumei (pinyin name).

So, to appear more Singaporean, some Chinese split up the spelling of their given names from one word to two, such as from Yumei to Yu Mei.

Others opt for drastic change.

Take Miss Ashley Chen Yixuan, 26, who runs a cafe. She arrived in Singapore as seven-year-old Chen Song Zi when her parents moved here from China.

She took the name Ashley because she found that Singaporeans find it easier to remember and pronounce an English name.

But she also changed her given name because her classmates used to tease her, saying Song Zi sounded like Song Si which means "courting death" in Chinese.

Now a Singapore citizen, she said: "My mum was very bothered by my classmates calling me Song Si, so she went to consult fortune- tellers who came up with Yixuan. I like the name Ashley as it is not so common and it's a unisex name."

Other migrants who change their names include those from Myanmar and India. The former Myanmar nationals usually add an English name or use their Chinese names if they are ethnically Chinese. Lawyers said the Indians change their names for numerology reasons, to improve their fortune.

Lawyers said more people may be changing their names because it's easy to do so and does not cost a lot. There is no age criterion for people who want to change their names, but for those under 21, both parents must execute the deed poll to change their child's name legally.

Lawyers generally charge between $70 and $100 to do a deed poll, which is a legal declaration of the name change. The deed poll must be taken to the ICA so that the name is changed on the individual's identity card.

Lawyer Maurice Oon said: "It's getting more common now for Singaporeans to change their names when they reach 30 years of age and they have to make a new identity card."

Lawyers said most Singaporeans change their names to improve their fortune or to include an English or Christian name or a unique name they have made up. There are also those who detest their given names for various reasons, and make the change as soon as they can.

Mr Oon recalled a client who had suffered 50 years with a name which sounded like "penis" in Hokkien, enduring merciless teasing all his life. But he waited until his father died before taking on a more pleasant-sounding name.

Part-time waitress Yeow Moy Peng, 21, got a deed poll done last month to add the name Shalreen to her identity card. She dislikes her dialect name, Moy Peng, as it sounds like an "old auntie". Her aunt came up with Shalreen.

Miss Yeow, who is Malaysian and a Singapore permanent resident, said: "I find that people find it very hard to remember a dialect name so it's just easier to have an English name."

Hello, I'm Sixx

When personal trainer Sixx Ng, 32, tells people her name, many ask if she means the number six.

Yes, and it's pronounced the same way. Or they ask if she's the sixth child in her family. No, she is the youngest of three.

Miss Ng, a Singaporean whose given name is Wan Ying, said: "Eight out of 10 new people I meet say, 'Hi, I'm Seven', when I tell them I'm Sixx."

When she was in her teens and everyone used pagers, her pager code to identify herself to her friends was 16. So her best friend suggested she call herself Six, as Sixteen was too much of a mouthful.

There was also a character in the American sitcom Blossom named Six. Her friend added the extra x to make her name "more cool and unique".

Two years ago, when she turned 30 and had to make a new identity card, Miss Ng had a deed poll done to officially call herself Sixx Ng, since everyone she knew called her Sixx by then.

Lawyer Maurice Oon has come across others with unusual and wacky names like Brann, Dax, Frayzer, Tidus and Zelene.

Given the K-Pop wave sweeping through Asia, lawyers say some Singaporeans are also taking on Korean-sounding names or naming themselves after Korean celebrities.

Mr Oon has a client, a 30-year-old woman, who added Rain to her dialect name but denied naming herself after the male Korean star. She said she just liked the word rain.

Incidentally, Mr Oon, 51, named himself after the late Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees. He is a huge fan.

Lawyers say there are some Singaporeans who want to go by just one name, dropping their surnames, and others who want to add multiple English names such as Marilyn Joy Alexis Ng Mei Hua.

Asked if there are names that are not allowed, an Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) spokesman told The Sunday Times: "Generally, the ICA will advise parents against giving their child a name that is vulgar, obscene or offensive. Or a name that is in numeric form or in symbols without phonetic significance."

There is also a cap of 54 characters for a surname and given name due to limited space on the identity card.

Some of those who change their names do it more than once.

There are people who change their names, then think their new names may have brought them even worse luck, so they switch back to their former names, lawyers say.

Mr Oon had a client in her 20s who changed her name three times in six months. The fourth time she wanted to adopt a new name, he told her he would not act for her.

"I could see she was unhappy with her life and I told her, in vague terms, to seek help, instead of changing her name," he said.

The ICA has no limit on the number of times a person can change his name, but the spokesman said the ICA "reserves the right to assess each application on its own merits".

This article was first published on Oct 5, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.