Since my first year of undergraduate in Singapore, I have been asked for this question, which I have never encountered in Sabah. “Are you a Christian? Then why do you have Christian name?” Why not? I asked myself. Most of my Sabahan Chinese friends have Christian name; no matter they are Christian, Roman Catholics, Buddhist, Taoism or even Free-thinker.
Ok. Should I answer, because most of the Sabahan are Christian or R.C. before “Project M”? Or, it is because the number of Churches in Sabah is more than Mosques or Temples. Even though this is a fact, but it could not explain well in my case.
This question brings me to investigate the social culture of Sabah as well as my family history. Finally, I remember that I ask similar question to my mother when I was primary school too. “Your Chinese name is Ng Jia Han, and your ‘English’ name is Bernard.” my mother kept telling me this before I went to Kindergarten school.
The idea of having a Christian name among our siblings comes up from my father. His Christian name is Henry. He got this name when he was actively involved in Christian Youth Fellowship of the church nearby 30 years back. Well, this fellowship provides him a platform for networking since his move to this town. In fact, in this town where I was born, many residents recognize “Henry” instead of the Chinese name of my father.
According to my father, having a Christian name makes others, whose primary language is not Mandarin (especially non-Muslim Native who has Christian name too), to remember my name easily. My elder Sister’s Christian name is “Amy”, and my elder brother one is “Albert”. I myself am the second son, so my initial starts with “B”. My experience tells me that my father’s decision is correct. Usually, I will let my new friends to remember my name in their most convenient way, with flexibility.
Both names apply well to me. “Bernard” and “Jia Han” are not two different persons. It may sound like a joke to a few people. Frankly speaking, I am proud of these both identities. Having some Christian background is good. If you visit my house before, you will notice a 1000-piecies jigsaw “The Last Supper”, as several months’ effort of five of us, hanging in our living room. A Bible from my father still lies in a drawer of the living room. We always give up the thought of throwing it away during Spring Cleaning. My brother practices his guitar with several worn-out scores of Malay-version Choral, which contains lyrics in repeating the non-sensitive word “Allah”.
For me, having a pure mind/soul is better than having a pure racial/religious identity. Those, who are proud of their racial/religious culture 24 hours a day, are lacking of their fundamental practice of being “humble” and “respect”.
My mother is a form teacher in a Mandarin-speaking kindergarten in my town for 18 years. Based on my observation, with no official statistics, about 60% of her students are non-Chinese (Sino-Native, Muslim Native, Christian Native, etc). Every year, she has to spend some time in giving them a Chinese name carefully. Those characters must be easy to write, easy to pronounce and easy to remember. The given names are not our Matriculation number, which ends of use after graduation. They carry their initial name and Chinese name for their whole life. This is peaceful society with mutual respect.
The name “Bernard” originates from French, carrying the meaning of “to be brave like a bear”. Similarly, I will carry this name whole my life to remind myself “to be self-confident” and “to be brave when necessary”.
Frankly speaking, the social integrity of Sabah is better than Singapore. You will be surprised to learn that some Kadazandusun (the largest tribe Native group in Sabah) families choose Hakka dialect to be their primary language. Ironically, the new Hakka generations in Sabah, who do not know how to speak Hakka, is getting more and more.
In Singapore, I am always recognised mistakenly as Singaporean, PRC from Guangdong province, Vietnamese, or Indonesian. Even they guess my nationality correctly, I am always been thought as Christian or government secondary school graduate. Recently, I have learnt to respond them with “thank you”. Keeping my mind openly, I am interested in learning Arab, Jawi, and Kadazandusun.
A rainbow is hope because it contains seven different colours.
A garden is popular because it contains various species of flowers all the year.
A mix-breed kid is cute because he/she contains the vigorous genes-mixing DNA.
Unity in Diversity, in Society, is Beauty.