Many post-war migrants who came to Australia Anglicised their names just to “fit in”.
Letters were added, moved around and disappeared altogether from both first names and surnames to make them sound less ethnic.
Greek-Armenian broadcaster George Donikian’s story is a common one.
“You’ve got a job tomorrow,” a prospective boss told him. “But I can’t do Donikian. You can be George White, George Green, any colour George except Donikian.”
So George said, ‘How about I take one letter off my name and make it Donikan?’ And his prospective employer said, ‘Yeah, good. You’ve got the job.’ “
My father, Stavros, politely responded to being called Steve for decades and my mother, Athena, answered to Tina. I know they experienced a sense of loss doing this, but they did it to make things easier for themselves. They did it to fit in.
Only in recent years have they proudly insisted people call them by their actual names. It doesn’t seem like such a big thing to expect – it’s not like they were asking people to recite passages from The Odyssey in its original ancient text.
Migrants let go of their names for convenience, ease and practicality – but mostly for the need to feel accepted.
The migrant experience was, and continues to be, as much about people repeatedly mispronouncing your name as it is about them telling you how much they like “your” food.
There’s nothing wrong with not being able to wrap your tongue around a name, but constant mispronunciation often sits somewhere between ridicule and casual racism. It all depends on your value system.
It was music to my ears to hear AFL commentators pronounce Essendon footballer Orazio Fantasia’s name correctly during the Sydney/Essendon game at the SCG last Friday night.
During a pre-game interview, Essendon captain Dyson Heppell confirmed to Channel Seven commentator Hamish McLachlan the correct way to say Fantasia – and it’s “Fanta-sia”.
Commentators have been having “fun” with Orazio Fantasia’s name since his debut. Fantasia himself has laughed off the mispronunciation and the verbal theatrics that come with it – like so many before him.
As a descendant of Greek migrants who came to Australia for a better life, I can’t help but detect a whiff of casual racism about it. Perhaps you need to live it to understand the smell. It takes me back to people laughing at my own surname, some affectionately, others not so – it becomes a case of death by a thousand cuts, or gibes, or lazy “wog” references.
The Heppell interview prompted fans (with Anglo Saxon names) to declare it a “joke”, a “stitch-up” for Brian Taylor, the commentator who appears to delight in over-emphasising his incorrect pronunciation of Fantasia’s name.
No, it’s not a joke, it’s just part of the migrant experience.
The question arose, “But why has it taken him so long to tell us the correct way to say it?”
Again, it’s part of the migrant experience. It takes time to feel comfortable.
Although post-war migrants have mostly been accepted thanks to the introduction of multiculturalism as a policy in the 1970s, there are still cultural hangovers from the past – and mispronouncing names is a part of that.
For the record, Fantasia provided the proper Italian pronunciation in August last year.
“Who cares?” some have asked.
Well, we do. Just like you would if someone were to constantly say your name the wrong way. Our name is our identity. It connects us to our family, our people and our homeland. The very least you can do is attempt to get it right.
Despite knowing the correct pronunciation, Taylor has said he’s going to continue with his own version.
“We don’t pronounce Italian names in Australia in the full Italian way,” Taylor said. “We pronounce it with the Australianism in it, and that’s how we’ll continue to do it.”
“In Italy, it’s pronounced ‘Fanta-sia’. Guess where we live? Australia. And we call it ‘Fan-tay-sha,’ “ Taylor said.
Rather than sounding like a character from They’re a Weird Mob (published in 1957) more respect needs to be shown here.
If someone says this is how I pronounce my name – just do it.
It’s their name. Not yours.
You have to fit in.