This week someone asked me if I am Olivia Tan or Olivia Chiong. She was confused because my emails to her were clearly from Olivia Chiong, but she saw me on Facebook as Olivia Tan. I replied that I was Olivia Tan but now go by Olivia Chiong (married name). In fact, I appear on Facebook now as Olivia Tan (Olivia Chiong).
I have had 2 name changes in my life. Each change was triggered by the formation of a new family.
I was born Olivia Fan. When my mother remarried and I was adopted by my stepfather, I became Olivia Tan. 2 years ago when Zoey was born, I became Olivia Chiong. This will be the last time I have a name change.
So why Chiong?
Back when Irene and I were discussing about having a family, we struggled with the last name. It is easy for some of my friends to hyphenate their last names or simply add their husband’s last name to their name. Real examples from my Facebook friends list include Simon-Tan, Manimaren-Woo, Bey Rodrigo and Danker Stapp. I have also seen Liew-Chng, Tan-Chong and Wong-Chan. This option didn’t really work for us given that our last names were Tan and Oh. Tan-Oh look and sounded weird. Oh-Tan wasn’t any better.
So we started looking around to see what alternatives we had. We considered Fan, my birth last name, but it felt unfair as it was only from my side of the family. I tried making up last names like “Tanohrama” but even silently saying it in my head made me laugh. My rather unhelpful friends contributed “Rambutan” and other equally ridiculous last names. It made us laugh, but none of the last names were remotely passable.
When I got pregnant, we had to make a decision on what last name to give the baby. So the discussion got serious and we finally settled on the last name 张 (Zhang). This was as we realised both our mothers have the Chinese last name 张. It is doubly meaningful for me as my maternal grandmother whom I am extremely close to and love very much is also 张. However, there was one small problem. Zhang is the hanyu pinyin spelling of the Chinese word. The dialect spelling was Tjong (Indonesian) on my side and Cheong on Irene’s side. We weren’t particularly fond of either spelling and preferred to have something of our own. So I came up with Chiong. This way, Zoey’s last name would have a bit of both (I)rene and (O)livia in it. At this point, we didn’t think about how we would eventually end up with the same last name as her.
The photo we used to announce Zoey’s birth
After Zoey was born, we tried to register her birth at the hospital. It turned out to be an impossible task. Given that we are in a lesbian relationship, in the eyes of the law, I had given birth as a single mother. Irene took the paperwork down to the registration desk at KKH and was told I had to personally go to ICA to register Zoey’s birth. This rule is so incredibly stupid, I cannot even begin to express my anger at it. It is hard enough to be a single mother with less support and help than other mothers. If you had a c-section, you would be a single mother, recovering from surgery with a newborn and you still need to go to ICA just to register said newborn. This is all because the government wants you to swear in front of a notary public that you are a single mother before allowing you to register a child who is born outside of marriage. I had Irene, my mother and the confinement nanny to help and even I found it frustrating. I cannot imagine those brave mothers who do it on their own. Huge salute to them.
So not long after Zoey was born, we set off for ICA. When we got there, we found that we couldn’t give Zoey the last name Chiong. When you register a child’s birth, if there is a father, the child MUST take the father’s last name. Talk about a patriarchal society. What if a married couple preferred their child to have the mother’s last name? Well apparently that is not an option. IF there is no father, the child MUST take the mother’s last name. In our case, we did not want Zoey to take my last name, but they would not allow us to register her unless we did.
We were fortunate as the ICA officer was very helpful and provided us 2 options.
A) We could register Zoey as Zoey Tan and execute a deed poll for her to change the last name to Chiong after that. Once the deed poll is done, we can then come back to ICA and get the last name amended. However, the birth certificate cannot be reissued. Instead an extract of birth will be provided and she will always need to carry a copy of the deed poll with us to show the change of name. At least until she gets her own NRIC.
B) I could execute a deed poll to change my last name to Chiong and register her after that. This would allow her to be Zoey Chiong right from the beginning. For myself, it would mean updating ICA and other relevant bodies by sending them my deed poll. But once my NRIC and passport were updated, I would no longer need to carry the deed poll around.
We decided to go with option B.
Both Irene and myself have been known by our last names for over 30 years. Losing it meant losing a part of our identity, both personally and professionally. I had always thought we would change to the same last name when we got married. I just didn’t realise that having our daughter would be the catalyst for the change. While it wasn’t strictly necessary for Irene to change her last name as well, but we figured that if she carried the next child, she would have to change eventually. So we decided to do it together and become a family at the same time.
A very kind friend of ours, W, helped us to execute the deed polls. A couple of days later we went back to ICA to update our NRICs and get Zoey registered. Fun fact: Zoey’s birth certificate is issued on the same day as both of our new NRICs and that date happens to be the birthday of our friend W who did the deed polls for us.
And that is how we became The Chiongs.