Names say a lot about a person. Too much, in fact. And more often than not, names lead to people being wrongly judged. As someone who has a very Indian name (Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya) I’ve often been asked if I’m Indian or Tamil. Thing is, I’m not. As far as I know, I have no Indian or Tamil blood in me. Yet my name gives off the wrong image. People aren’t as subtle with my name either. Once in school, a new girl to our class joined a conversation between a friend and me. She then started speaking in Tamil, and my friend, a Tamil, replied in English. Since the new girl still hadn’t realized I didn’t speak the language, my friend told her something like, “she’s not Tamil.” I was then told the new girl assumed I was Tamil because of my name.
More obvious than my Indian name are Muslim names. When talking about my friends, a Muslim name never goes unnoticed. Especially with older family members. “Oh! He’s a Muslim?” they would ask, without asking such questions about all the Sinhalese or even Tamil friends I have. This is especially so if the friend being discussed is a male.
Is it fair for names to be one of the first few impressions people get of you? Names, especially in Sri Lanka will easily label you a Sinhalese, Tamil, Burgher, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and so on. Even surnames say a lot about you. I rarely let people know I also have Perera as a surname, I never use it, and do not wish to ever use it.
Unknown to you even, names say a lot about you. They will give people a picture of your family background, your race and religion and if your social status. Is this fair? Certainly not. Can such attitudes be changed? Maybe not.