‘What’s in a name?’

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Sharon Bong |

What relevance has the immortal words of the Bard to the names of Jyoti Singh Pandey and Ang May Hong given the time-space gap of: Verona, Italy, 1594—New Delhi, India, 2012—and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 1987? What is the significance of naming with regard to 23-year-old Jyoti and nine-year-old May Hong, as victims of brutal rapes? 

In the case of Ang May Hong, the brutality of her rape and murder, witnessed the transformation of ‘[public] consciousness [that] turned to public outcry”, [2] and fuelled an unprecedented campaign by citizens, cutting across gender and ethnic lines. Amendments to the law pertaining to rape were passed in Parliament in that same year. In reviewing the women’s movement in Malaysia in the 1980s and more importantly, the conscientisation of civil society, Ang May Hong has become emblematic of these conversions of the heart, given the general apathy towards victims of ‘gender-based violence’.[3] She is thus named in the Malaysian feminist annals that document the struggle to overcome GBV against women and men, in memory of her posthumous role in agitating for change.

In the case of Jyoti Singh Pandey [4], the brutality of her gang rape and eventual death due to severe injuries sustained, led not only to public outcry in India but also global outrage, that fuelled a swifter hand of justice for the five men and a juvenile charged with the crime, advocacy for police reforms, protests, vigils, debates, calls for a mindset change of those who persist in blaming sex crimes on the ‘loss of traditional values’, etc. To name or not to name, in the case of Jyoti, is thus revelatory of competing intents:[5]

  • Indian law’s prohibition of naming or ‘identification of victims of sex crimes’ due to the social stigma associated,
  • Her father’s grief and pride in breaking the silence in naming her as she ‘did not do anything wrong’ and that by doing so, she would live on as a beacon of hope and courage to GBV survivors, 
  • A politician’s suggestion to name a new anti-rape law after her to memorialise her (intent unknown),   
  • Some name her as ‘Amanat’ (Urdu for treasure) to revere her fight for her life and activists in naming her ‘Damini’ (Hindi for lightning), politicise her now iconic stature.[6]

To name to break the silence of shame (which includes naming marital rape as rape), is to redress discriminatory cultural practices even biased religious interpretations that condone GBV as a means of regulating the sexuality of women predominantly. 

Fundamentally, beyond the claims of immortality, we are named because we are persons, created in the image of God.


[1]The quote is from William Shakespeare’s (1594) Romeo and Juliet (Act II, scene 2, lines 890-891), available at: http://www.opensourceshakespeare.org/views/plays/play_view.php?WorkID=romeojuliet&Act=2&Scene=2&Scope=scene (date accessed 29 January 2013).

[2]Cecilia Ng (1999) Positioning Women in Malaysia (Basingstoke, Hamphire: Macmillan Press) pp. 183-184.

[3]The definition of GBV, initially associated with violence against women (1993 UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women), has now broadened to include “all forms of violence that are related to social expectations and social positions based on gender and not conforming to a socially accepted gender-role.” See ARROW (2011) ‘Definitions’ in ARROWs For Change, vol. 17, no. 2, p. 14. Available at: http://arrow.org.my/publications/AFC/v17n2.pdf (date accessed 29 January 2013).

[4]Shaji G.Kochuthara (2013) ‘That Delhi girl!’ in The First, January 2013, available at: http://www.catholicethics.com/forum-submissions/that-delhi-girl (date accessed 20 January 2013).

[5] Reuters (2013) ‘Indian rape victim’s father says he wants her named’, in 6 January 2013, The Star Online, available at:
(date accessed 29 January 2013).

[6]Diana Reese (2013) ‘Father of New Delhi rape victim: Tell the world my daughter’s name’ in Washington Post (‘She the People’ blog), posted on 7 January 2013, available at:
(date accessed 29 January 2013).


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