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Author: Sudesh Loi

It’s all in a name: why I refuse to use a ‘white’ name

Updated Thursday, 2nd December 2021
Should you ever change your identity in order to progress your career? Open University employee Sudesh Loi gives his views...

Before joining The Open University in March 2021, I left my old job of 12 years and decided to take a year out of work as my wife was expecting our second child during the COVID-19 pandemic. I eventually decided to begin the application process but first I needed to dust off my 12+ years old CV and update it.

What better than to ask my old friend Jas (short for Jaswant) who had just secured a great job recently I thought? However, the conversation took a turn I wasn’t expecting: 

The outline of a text conversation

This triggered a memory. Born in the 1980s, I was never sure why people used to call my Dad ‘Paul’ (his full name is Surrinder Pall Loi). When I recently asked Dad why, he said his old boss in the 70s said ‘I am going to call you Paul, it is easier then Surrinder’. His name was chosen, and it just stuck from then. It was his first ever job at 16.

My Dad tells me that Paul is the same as his middle name Pall. ‘It does sound the same son’ he tells me now in 2021. I can’t help but think it was Dad’s justification or just something to say to make his life easier by going along with it.

After my discussion with Jas via text message, I eventually called him and asked him why he felt the need to change his birth name and why he thought that it was the norm when applying for new job opportunities. He responded by saying that he only got his new job as he had ‘whitewashed’ his name and called himself David. He had applied for the same role with two separate CVs using both his birth name Jaswant and also David. He only managed to obtain an interview using the name David and he eventually secured a new job. I had so many questions…

As a devout Sikh, I found it hard to believe he changed his name. Sikhs are very proud of their heritage...As a devout Sikh, which Jas and his family also are, I found it hard to believe that he changed his name. Sikhs are very proud of their heritage and this is something I could not get my head around, so I asked some questions that I felt that I needed to.

Jas began by telling me that everyone at his workplace called him Dave, and that he didn’t mind as the money was good. I could not help thinking that after 10 years of friendship, did I really know Jas at all?

The justification for being called Dave did not settle well with me. Jas did not seem to see the bigger issue here when he casually responded, ‘Mate everyone is doing this, you will too’.

I could have lost my train of thought at this point, but I wanted to understand the big questions here. I began to ask Jas about his family and if they knew about his lie to obtain a new job opportunity. This struck a nerve with Jas, especially when I explained that I would never do something like this.

The only thing I guess Jas could do right now to avoid the awkward conversation regarding his family was to start speaking about his employer. I knew what path this would take and was fully prepared to bring the subject of Jas’s family up again.

Apparently, the employer took all of Jas’s bank details and other identification with no problems, even though his name was Jaswant. He went on to further explain that his new work email had the name of Dave and so did his email signature. Jas went on about how well he is doing at work and he could not see what the issue was.

With all this information I explained my views, quite abruptly outlining that Jas was lying and it was like committing some sort of fraud, and again I asked if Jas’s family knew about his lie. My views severely changed the tone of the phone conversation from this point with Jas shouting that he had done nothing wrong and that his family would not care about it.

I started to think that I will never understand his thought process, and this conversation will get very difficult, but I persevered with my views and questions, even knowing our friendship could be very much over.

For the third time I brought up Jas’s family. I mentioned his sister (who is also a friend of mine), explaining that she would never have lied about her name and I was pretty sure his parents would not be happy with the situation.

...he was hired by a company because he had a white nameJas refused to talk more on the subject and requested I ask someone else for help, as he no longer wished to continue our conversation. Before he abruptly cut his phone off, he accused me of making him out to be a “coconut”, but I quickly explained that I never would say anything of that nature, and he was hired by a company because he had a white name.

The phone went dead at this point and I took a deep breath and had to reflect on what had happened. It felt very surreal to me to have had this conversation: how had I not known this was a thing people of my heritage and other ethnicities may be doing?

Jas mentioned in our conversation that he was ‘not a coconut’, which is a term that pretty much means ‘Brown on the outside, white on the inside’. I never use this term, but Jas felt I was implying he was. I’ve had this term personally aimed at me before, and more so now since I married my wife, who is white, in 2017. It is not a term I would ever use.

I have not spoken to Jas since the conversation. He blocked me, so I guess that is our friendship over, which is a shame after 10+ years. I did question myself for a few days after, wondering did I truly know Jas at all? I still hope he tries to contact me in the future.

I bumped into his sister last month and she asked if everything was ok. At this point I felt like not mentioning what happened, but I ended up explaining what happened over a coffee as she knew something was up. I think to say she was annoyed was an understatement as she sped off in her car (with the Sikh symbol on her registration plate) to speak with her brother.

After that coffee, I very much doubt that I would ever hear from Jas again. But I can keep hoping. My phone then rings and I have a call from my energy supplier. A man with a thick Indian accent explains that he is calling as I raised an issue with them concerning discrepancies with my bills. He says his name is Steve. I ask him what his real name is in Hindi, but he says he can’t tell me as this call is recorded and he has been trained in this way. I guess Jas is not the only one… I really am proud that I used my real name when applying for my position at The Open University.


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