‘One-named’ wonder

19 08 2009

I now share a common trait with Bono, Cher, and Barney.

No, I’m not a campy pop icon (not yet, at least) that some people might be embarrassed to admit they enjoy. But according to Citizenship & Immigration Canada (CIC), Service Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency, I’m now the one-named wonder known as Krystle Chow Pik Yi.

What’s that you say? That doesn’t sound like one name? I didn’t think so either. But according to all my documents, my full name is my family name/surname, and I have no given name or first name. You see, I’m a new immigrant to Canada, with a Malaysian passport. (You probably wouldn’t suspect it when speaking to me in person, since I’ve been told I have no accent and I’ve been studying and working here since 2002.)

Problem is, CIC doesn’t recognize the format of my name the way Malaysia does, with the family name appearing before my Chinese name, and because my passport has my entire name in one line and doesn’t indicate which name is which, all my official documents currently state that my family name is, ludicrously, my full name: first, last and Chinese. That’s the way it is on my birth certificate as well, and perhaps that’s the fault of the Malaysian government for assuming that everyone in the world will understand. I guess the assumption is that Malaysian citizens will never leave and have to deal with these issues.

I don’t know if it’s a big deal yet, but it’s starting to look that way. For instance, CRA’s helpline just told me I would need to fill out my form just as indicated in my other documents, with no first name, although the agent did advise me to write a letter explaining why the name on my previous tax documents won’t match my filings from now on.

That’s fine for now, but what does that mean for my other documents? Since my bank accounts are all linked to my SIN card, will that create confusion for the banks? Will officials be confused as to what my last name is? (It’s Chow.) Will the HR department at work have to wrestle with odd formatting when working out my tax documents? I’ve called the Malaysian High Commission here in Ottawa and unfortunately, there’s no way I can change my name to remove just my Chinese name, and I can’t do it here – I’d have to go back to Malaysia once I got married to attach an AKA to my official documents. Still, based on what’s going on right now, I have no idea if the Canadian government would recognize that I have more than one part in my name even if I changed it to simply being first name, last name.

I’m calling around to a few immigration lawyers to see what they say. I may need to get an official document explaining why my name is the way it is. And of course, I understand the government’s inflexibility. You can’t have a person with two different names on two different documents, especially where national security is concerned. But I’m absolutely flabbergasted that it seems no one has had this problem before – either no one with both a Christian name and a Chinese name on their birth certificate from Malaysia has ever immigrated to Canada before, or they’ve never had to file taxes, open a bank account, or get a driver’s licence. Or maybe they don’t mind that they only have one name. Maybe they think it’s cool to have something in common with Madonna.

This has been a rather long rant about something as silly as the format of a name, I know. But I’m wondering, does anyone out there have the same problem? I’d be super-happy to hear if anyone else has had the same frustrating experience. It’s made all the more upsetting considering the long, complicated process one has to go through to become a landed immigrant, and the fact that I thought all this ridiculousness would be over once I got my precious Maple Leaf Card.

It was nice while it lasted, I suppose.

(UPDATE Aug. 26): I called the City of Ottawa as well and it looks like if I ever decide to get married, that could pose a problem for me changing my last name, so it looks like I have two options.

a) Write my MP. Good thing is Paul Dewar is Mr. Immigration (I know this from a story I did a while back interviewing him), so he might be able to help out. I’ll hopefully at the very least have a first name, even if I have to grin and bear the fact that my last name will be “Chow Pik Yi.” We’ll see how that works.

b) Get a lawyer from home to verify what my name order means. My mom was furious when I called and asked about this and asked why the government is so ignorant. What can you do?

Oh, and I called an immigration lawyer in Toronto, and apparently this happens all the time to Mexicans as they usually have two last names, their father’s and their mother’s. For them the problem is that the mother’s surname is placed last, and even though they would never be identified by their mother’s last name, that’s how CIC recognizes them since they can’t understand that a middle name could be a last name. Frustrating.




One response

19 08 2009

I sympathize with your problem…can see how it will create confusion and delays when dealing with legal issues. I hope you get it sorted out somehow!

Haven’t had the same problem as you, as I was born in Canada and have a typical North American style name – given name, one middle name and surname. But…I’ve legally changed my surname three times since birth, and of course, that has created a bit of confusion and hassle, at least for a while after each change.

My first change was from my birth name to the name of my adoptive father at age 18. 12 years later I got married and took my husband’s name. And then, seven years after that, we got divorced, and I legally changed to my mother’s maiden name (long story).

There were a few minor hassles and confusions each time. But thankfully, the worst problem my name changes have presented me with is that it’s pretty much impossible for anyone who knew me before 2001 to find me on Facebook! This might be considered a good thing in some cases! 😉

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