Thursday, July 26, 2007

Sikh and Ye Shall Find Two Surnames

A Sikh group in Canada is upset over a policy that requires immigrants with the surname Singh or Kaur to change their names.

Karen Shadd-Evelyn, a spokeswoman with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, said the reason for the policy is that it helps officials with the paperwork and allows them to identify people's files quickly, efficiently and accurately.

"You can imagine you wouldn't want your file to be confused with someone else's," she said.

Singh and Kaur are common names in the Sikh community. In a tradition that began more than 300 years ago, the name Singh is given to every baptized male and Kaur to every baptized female Sikh. There are millions of Singhs and Kaurs around the world. [Link]
During the Sikh naming ceremony, the holy book—Guru Granth Sahib—is opened to a random page. The given name of the child is left to the parents, but must start with the first letter of the first word on that page.
In older days parents were not very fussy about choosing the name. We often hear such names [as] Vir Singh, Jodh Singh, Lal Singh, Kala Singh, Teja Singh and Ganda Singh. Literally translated some of these would mean red, black, sharp and onion. [Link]


I am wondering if there was indeed such a policy in place, how did my family manage to escape its tentacles. Is it applied at will? I have a Singh surname and emigrated from India in 2003 with my family.


According to this article, the policy had been in place for ten years. Citizenship and Immigration Canada now says:

"'This was not a mandatory requirement. There is no policy or practice whereby people with these surnames are asked to change their names.

'CIC recognizes that previous communications with clients may not have been clear on this issue and regrets any inconvenience this may have caused.'"

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