When Geraldine moved to Australia, she couldn't get a job. Then she changed her last name.

When Geraldine Tan was six-years-old, she remembers telling her dad she would keep her last name “forever and ever”. 

Born and raised in Singapore, Geraldine explains: “I really love the part of my family history that my last name represents, and the stories that come from it.”

The 31-year-old never expected she would be faced with the reality that if she did not change her name, she would experience prolonged unemployment. But after meeting her now-husband on a dating app in Singapore, Geraldine moved to Australia in 2016. She was thrilled for the new opportunities she hoped her new home would bring. 

In Singapore, she worked as an editor. A self-described ambitious woman, she never had a problem finding a job. Until she moved to Melbourne, Australia. 

Geraldine never considered changing her name, until she was left with little option. Image: Supplied.


For 18 months, Geraldine recalls applying for about two jobs every week, only to be left unemployed. No one, she tells Mamamia, would give her a chance.

“I had left this really amazing job back in Singapore to come to Australia,” she reflects. “Then I suddenly had no career prospects. No one would give me the time of day to be an editor. I had to offer my editorial services for free, before someone would give me freelance work. I had to prove myself over and over and over again before someone would say, ‘Hey, you're worthy of being paid a living wage’.”

It was, as Geraldine recalls, an extremely dark time for her. Sure, she admits, some people may question whether it would all come down to her last name. But there is one telling job application that stays with her like a birthmark. 

In 2017, Geraldine applied for a job as an editor. 

“I had all the experience and qualifications they were asking for,” she says. But quicker than she could close the tab on her computer, she had been rejected. 

Geraldine sent an email, politely asking for feedback on where she didn’t meet the job criteria and how she could improve. They replied by saying she did not have the right experience. She corrected them, informing them she did have the specified skills. 

They did not respond. 

“It made me feel like all my achievements and all my experiences were completely not valid, just because I'm not Australian. And just because I didn't come from an Anglo country, and just because I had a non-Anglo last name. It felt like if only I had an Anglo name, then everything will be validated -  I would be visible again.”


Geraldine and her husband. Image: Supplied. 

In 2018, Geraldine married her husband. She immediately decided she would change her last name - not legally, only professionally. If it hadn’t been for these job issues, she never would have considered this. 

Months later, she realised the aforementioned job was being advertised again. With her new name, and the same level of determination, she applied for the job once more. This time, she heard back. They asked for an interview.


"I used the exact same CV. The exact same cover letter. The only thing that I changed was my last name. That was a really tough pill to swallow. I was desperate enough for a job to just go along with it and just be nice. But at the same time, I was really, really quite hurt.” 

After getting a certain way through the process, the company realised she was a previous applicant, due to the fact she was using the same email address, and stopped responding to her, with no explanation for why. 

Geraldine says it was a tangible example of name discrimination. And she’s not alone in the experience. 

In fact, a 2015 study by ANU found job applicants with Chinese, Middle Eastern and Indigenous sounding names were considerably less likely to get called for an interview. 

Geraldine now uses her husband's last name only for professional reasons. Image: Supplied. 


The research found that to get as many interviews as an Anglo applicant with an Anglo-sounding name, a Chinese person must submit 68 per cent more applications. 

This is consistent with Geraldine’s experience. And within one month of changing her last name, she secured a full-time role as an editor. It came after 18 months of searching for work with her maiden name.

“I was so relieved. Finally someone thinks I'm worthy enough.”

Geraldine believes her experience of name discrimination is part of a larger problem of racism in Australia. 

Despite English being her native language, she says people are constantly surprised when she begins speaking.  

“Sometimes people are rude or dismissive when they start talking me. Then they hear me speak and they change their attitude towards me when they hear that I speak perfect English. They instantly become nicer,” she says.

Feature image: supplied.

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