opinion

I was forced to change my name for my job, and I regret it.

Hi. My name is Jo. Except that isn’t my real name. I was born Giuseppina.

Confused? So am I.

WHO AM I?!?

Last night Gold Logie winner Waleed Aly gave a voice to what is “a dirty little secret” in Australia, in particular in the media.

When it comes to different types of food, Australia is proudly multicultural and tolerant. When it comes to names, Australia is incredibly racist.

Aly dedicated his Logie win to those “with an unpronounceable name”, sharing a story about a colleague who doesn’t use his real name for fear of not being able to get a job.

“It matters to them for a particular reason,” Aly said. “That reason was brought home… not so long ago actually when someone who is in this room, and I’m not going to use the name they use in the industry, came up to me, introduced themselves and said to me, ‘I really hope you win. My name is Mustafa. But I can’t use that name because I won’t get a job’.

“He’s here tonight. And it matters to people like that that I am here. I know it’s not because of me. I know that.” Mustafa has since been identified as Tyler De Nawi who is of Lebanese heritage and stars in Here Come The Habibs on Channel Nine.

I was forced to change my name two decades ago and have regretted it ever since. It was a bit about sexism, it was a bit about racism and it had a lot to do with the fact that I was young and desperate to forge a career in radio. I would have done anything that was asked of me, well, almost anything (the “casting couch” still being alive and well in those days).

When I was 17 decided I wanted to work in radio and started volunteering at my local radio station. I was known as Giuseppina in those day but often used the English translation, Josephine. That still wasn’t enough of a modification on my ultra-Ethnic Italian name for some, as I was to soon find out.

I thought I’d left the issues over my name behind in school where friends used to call me Josephine Alphabet and stumble over Giuseppina. They never asked me how to pronounce it properly. Much more fun to mock me.

"I wish that I had been stronger and had fought for the right to use my "woggy" name." Images: Provided
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I went by Josephine for years, even after I scored my first job in radio at a regional station. "Nights with Paul and Josephine" was born and it was incredible fun. Then our little radio station was taken over by a major network and I was chosen to co-host the breakfast show at the tender age of 20.

This just doesn't happen. I was meant to spend a decade working at tiny little radio stations in unknown parts of Australia for at least a decade before scoring one of the most coveted jobs in a massive regional radio market.

My boss was a typical radio middle manager - white male, loud, sexist, a bit scary, racist - and I was very young, very innocent and very impressionable. I actually really loved him and still do. I looked up to all of my bosses. It was just a sign of the times, the way things had to be done.

He told me that I'd have to change my name to make it more "radio friendly". Then he said I needed something shorter, more memorable. Jo would be a good start and then he asked me to think of a surname that might sound good on the radio.

I was shocked and really sad at the thought of not being able to use my name on the air.

My Italian heritage made me proud and I loved my Italian name. I had looked forward to embracing it as an adult. I'd just chosen the wrong industry, clearly. So Jo Abi was born.

Dad wasn't impressed, having instilled pride about my heritage and name in me whenever I came home in tears after being teased for my "wog" name. As far as he was concerned I was being bullied all over again.

"Let me talk to your boss," he almost shouted down the phone line.

"No Dad, I just have to do it. Sorry, it's just the way it is."

These were the days of TV show Acropolis Now when everyone was either a "wog" or a "skip". Post continues after video.

Everyone got in on it, suggesting random Anglo surnames I might like to use. I hated them all.

Why did I have to change my name? It felt so strange to call myself Jo Abi, particularly because at the time there was a newsreader at the station who had an incredibly long surname however it was German, not a wog name like mine, so her's was apparently okay.

Mine was not.

Since then I have felt this weird separation between my professional life and my private life, like a mild form of multiple personality disorder. Jo Abi is who I am in public and Giuseppina is who I am in private, the real me.

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Some would say that both versions  equal the sum total of me, which is a much healthier way to look at it. My feelings about the separation between selves changes depending on the situation.

If work is going really well, I am Jo Abi.

If it isn't it going well it doesn't matter, because I'm really Giuseppina. They don't know me.

"Waleed Aly dedicating his gold Logie win to those with 'unpronounceable names' means so much." Image: Channel Nine

I could change back to my real name at any time, particularly after I was married and had kids. My children would love to hear their surname on TV and radio and see it in print. I was always discouraged though, by people I really respected.

"Your whole career has been as Jo Abi. You can't change your name. You'll lose all the progress you have made."

I've grown used to it now. The only time it is ever an issue is whenever legal documents are drawn up or someone in pay roll is trying to figure out who Giuseppina is. Then they are usually just curious as to why I go by a different name.

Waleed Aly dedicating his Gold Logie win to those with "unpronounceable names" means so much because he has given a voice to a race issue that isn't often discussed and I along with him hope that Australia has the ability to change, particularly those sections of Australian media that force those of us with beautiful, diverse, unique ethnic names to change them, to "anglocise" them, and in the process, "anglocise" ourselves.

Aly joked that those uncomfortable with his win could use an Instagram filter to change his skin colour if they liked. I, along with him, hope that Australia gets to a place where that is no longer an issue, where that joke isn't necessary, where we all realise that what makes this country so unique and so amazing is its ethnic diversity, and not just when it comes to food.

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