Executive Yuan spokesperson Kolas Yotaka has been using the Romanized version of her Aboriginal name for at least 10 years — but some Taiwanese apparently find it offensive.
Kolas on Friday last week had to respond to a note in the Presidential Office’s suggestion box asking her to use her “Chinese name,” which just shows how far the nation has yet to go to fully embrace its diversity and become an inclusive society. Some people seem to forget that Aborigines are just as Taiwanese as the nation’s Han majority.
The note asked Kolas to stop using her “English” Aboriginal name — which is a misnomer, as Roman script is used for transliteration of most languages around the world, including Taiwan’s numerous Aboriginal languages and even Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese) at times.
The incident was as an opportunity for the government to remind the public to respect one another’s cultures, as only education can combat ignorance and discrimination.
The Presidential Office handled the letter quite gracefully, with spokesman Alex Huang (黃重諺) sending a handwritten letter to the person who filed it.
Aside from saying that Kolas’ name is completely legal, Huang wrote: “Like Han Chinese naming customs, Aboriginal names come from a rich cultural heritage, and are also the greatest blessings from their parents and family. I suggest that you learn more about the issue so you can better understand your fellow citizens. Let’s be proud together of Taiwan’s beautiful diversity.”
It could not have been better said — and kudos to the government for showing class in handling the issue.
It should be basic knowledge to every Taiwanese that Aborigines were forced to use Chinese names (after being forced to adopt Japanese names by the previous colonizers) when the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) arrived. While it made sense for the nation’s Han majority to revert to their Chinese names, many Aborigines were “given” new Chinese names, often at random, by household registration officials.
The 1980s saw the birth of the “Return My True Name” (還我名字) movement, as Aborigines began their fight for the right to legally use their Aboriginal names. It was an arduous and lengthy process, with the government in 1995 only conceding that they could use the Chinese version of their Aboriginal names. It took another six years for them to win the right to use the Romanized version of their names.
With many celebrities and other public figures also using the Romanized version of their Aboriginal names, it is disappointing that one’s personal choice continues to be an issue, even after the passing of the Aboriginal Languages Development Act (原住民族語言發展法) in 2017.
Kolas already addressed the problem when she assumed her post in 2018 after some netizens mocked her name. She said at the time that she was willing to tirelessly and patiently communicate with people who question her name, telling them to respect her decision, as Aboriginal culture is also an integral part of Taiwan.
There is nothing more personal than one’s given name, and to question one that is perfectly legal is cultural bullying and a continuation of centuries-old colonial oppression of Aborigines. The government was right in publicizing the issue on social media to let its message reach more people.
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