Thursday, June 12, 2008

What's in a Name

Today I received a wedding card that had me thinking hard.

Perhaps it's a remnant of British colonialism. Or maybe even something much older to begin with - a throwback to ancient Malay feudalism mixed with complex Indian social hierachy perhaps?

Who knows the exact reasons behind them all - but I find a number of my slavish countrymen far too enamoured with social rank and titles! Just whisper the prefix Datuk ( our national equivalent of a Sir though they act far from knightly ) to this sycophantic lot and you'd have dozens of them literally falling to their knees ready to kowtow and obey their every bidding.

Nurse #1 : OMG. He's a datuk.
Nurse #2 : Oh yes, we must attend to their smallest whim.
Nurse #1 : And be ready to offer our bread, our wages and our first-born to them in slave-like homage.

Old-style feudalism at work?

Chivalry speaking
Bow to me dammit! I am a Duke! You are my pawns!

And please don't forget to address them properly if not to incur their utmost displeasure. Whether it's a Datuk, a Professor or a Doctor. Such a social solecism in more liberal republics would probably earn an unconcerned shrug but over here, the offender would probably receive hysterical dramatics worthy of the indignant Queen of Hearts.

If not be on the receiving end of an immediate imperious order of Off with Her Head! After all, who hasn't heard this spoken in a huffy tone at least once?

I am not a Mr.
I am a Doctor.
Of Philosophy!

No doubt such correct social formality should be de rigueur in frou frou state ceremonies ( I blame it on the protocol-obsessed bureaucrats! ) but in an informal pot-luck gathering amongst friends? Firmly insisting on being called by an honorific simply smacks of ill breeding - if not shockingly low self esteem!

Maybe I have been largely influenced by my shockingly liberal ( and vaguely socialist ) parentage since very little of all this impresses me. Always believed that receiving such an honorary title for service to the community should confer humility and a touch of noblesse oblige rather than a dash of snotty arrogance. All men are created equal after all - and tacking a Lordship ( or whatever prefix ) to the name doesn't ennoble them in the least.

Sometimes quite the reverse actually.

Despite that fact, many are quite content to revel in their store-bought chivalry ( note the shocking proliferation of such seemingly distinguised titles in our country ). Puffed up in conceit, they find reasons to drop their titles in everything possible. Reason enough that it's starting to be quite common to see certain peculiar additions on wedding cards.

Dr Lassie Love-a-lot
MBBS ( Narnia ), PhD Lovin ( Telmarine )
Daughter of Datuk Lucky Love-a-lot PRK AMD JXN

Making it resemble her curriculum vitae rather than an invitation to a wedding. Thanks for telling me where she got her multiple degrees. So good to know for matrimonial purposes. No doubt I can purchase a worthy bride or two over there as well.

And I haven't even mentioned the string of degrees and titles listed behind the groom's. A merger of CVs perhaps?


Kit said...

i can't decide if it is residuals from our past or just plain showing off either.

and do you know the saddest thing? the lack of it shows that you're a bum not worth knowing. and of course the extention of all this is when one attaches a metal badge to their car bumpers. helps with the ooos and ahhs and keeps cops away too. now who wouldn't want that?

do you remember a time when having a peerage actually meant something?

asm@di said...

this reminds me of a friend's father who has a dr to his name (dr as in phd) who have all sorts of people coming to him complaining of foot ache and all that.

the father didn't have the heart to correct those people so he just went along with it.

i think this is the problem with malaysians la. people are easily impressed by title. even when the person who has a title chooses not to use it, somehow words will go around and suddenly people will act differently knowing the person has a so-and-so-title attached to his name.

Hish said...

Haha I know what you mean, our society is pretty obsessed with those titles. My dad doesn't have a title but people call him Dato' anyway; they assume that he HAS to have a title just because he's the boss of some company. Not like the title is all that anyway.

I remember when my friend's dad received the title of 'Tan Sri'; he said "I'm so glad I'm not a Dato' anymore," because there are too many of them out there who give the good few a bad name.

Having a title definitely opens all sorts of doors for Malaysians. A Datukship increases your power and influence, but a Tan Sri-ship (and above) elevates you to an almost divine level.

Janvier said...

We'd rather a knighthood and be called 'Sir'. Hmmm. Sir Janvier. :P

Legolas said...

What better time to show off than during a wedding where everybody including unknown relatives were invited? Desperate people.

luke! said...

name is a pray, but titles are soooo overrated and exaggerated. after all, as you said "all men are created equal after all". i don't know which one is worse between someone who abuses their title and the one who abuses a person who has a title to get their own advantage.

βяõŵήїз© said...

You reminds me of my ex-lecturer back in my college. She got the title of 'Tengku' and there was once, I called her Ms. (her name), and she corrected me and asked me to call her Ms. Tengku instead of Ms. (Her name). Gosh! I wonder what she is thinking.

savante said...

Totally agree with you guys! It's nice to have people acknowledge our achievements but I certainly wouldn't expect it. Come on, respect is earned.

Calling me Dr is a bonus but I wouldn't ask it of anyone but my patients.