Paul Little: Let's not play a name game

John Key and John Banks, here at a 2008 cultural festival, have been made to look like fools.
Photo / Getty Images
John Key and John Banks, here at a 2008 cultural festival, have been made to look like fools. Photo / Getty Images

I recently set up a small work space near my home. On the first day I went across the road for some ethnic cuisine - in this case a steak and cheese pie, one of the traditional delicacies of my people.

The pie seller greeted me warmly. I'm no linguist but am pretty sure English was not her first language.

"Welcome to Grey Lynn," she said, as she handed me my pie.

I have lived here for 30 years. I'm not sure she even is 30. But I was delighted. Something is going right if she felt enough ownership of the place where she has ended up to welcome me to her home.

And I doubt that her parents named her Catherine, which was how she introduced herself.

We might have expected to see the end of cases like this one, and that of MP Rajen Prasad who described this week how some years ago he briefly changed his name to Harry to gain acceptance.

Harry Prasad is a dreadful name. It sounds like a bookie's runner. His real name, however, carries an air of Indian nobility.

I understand why immigrants change their names. There's something demeaning about having to repeat something as basic as your name so that someone with an uneducated ear can get it into their thick heads.

But getting someone's name right, as we teach our children from an early age, is the most basic of courtesies and it behoves those of us, of whatever race, welcoming newcomers here, to meet that minimum standard of politeness.

We are not a multicultural society if we have monocultural names. When we condone someone changing their name to "fit in" we are saying we are happy to use their skills, their labour, their intellectual property, probably a bit of their food, their exotic music and dancing, their taxes and their children's potential. We just won't use their names.

Pity the fools

Many, if not most, politicians start their careers motivated not by the desire to exercise power and wallow in worldly glory but by a drive to bring about change, a belief they can make a difference, and a certainty they can help those who might need it.

Only after their first week in office does that go out the window and they become willing to exchange their most dearly held principles for one small gain in a backroom deal, deceive their closest colleagues to get the portfolio they want, and generally eat bucketfuls of body waste to hang on to their unfortunate career choices. Disappointment at this turn of events probably lasts another week and after that they just get on with it.

In some cases, however, this becomes so obvious it's hard to watch.

Take John Banks and John Key. Their tragedy is writ large in their faces: Banks, a genuinely big-hearted man, a sentimental politician of the kind we seldom see now with his eyes permanently set to deer-in-headlights; and Key with his default aw shucks, shrug and grin response now in overdrive as the revelations about his partner-in-power and donations from Kim Dotcom give him no room for any strategy except wilful blindness.

Two normally likeable and extremely intelligent people have been forced into this ridiculous position, made to appear fools or knaves - possibly both - in the eyes of the public, by the requirements of their jobs. Whatever your other feelings about politicians, envy should not be one of them.

Who knew

Meanwhile, in other news this week, it was revealed that the Duchess of Cambridge possesses breasts.

- Herald on Sunday

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