by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Department of Household Registration

NEW AMENDMENTS to the Name Act will allow Indigenous to use their Indigenous names on their national ID, household registration, and passport without requiring a Chinese name. At present, laws require that Indigenous names, using Roman characters, also have Chinese characters for individuals registering for households, passports, or naturalizing.

As with naming laws more broadly, names can be changed three times. However, changes to names for cultural reasons will not count toward those three times. That being said, Indigenous can change their Indigenous names to Chinese or vice-versa only once. Indigenous who have current documents that feature both Indigenous and Chinese names can keep them if they wish. The new amendments will expand the powers of the Council of Indigenous Peoples regarding investigating and clarifying names.

The changes have been hailed as a success, insofar as Indigenous have long struggled for name recognition on national IDs and other documents. Particularly galling in past years was how easy the government could otherwise change names, as observed in the “Salmon Chaos” of 2021, when a promotion for unlimited free sushi offered by conveyor sushi chain Sushiro to individuals whose names contained the word “Salmon” led to a series of individuals changing their names to take advantage of the promotion. Yet despite how easy it was for such individuals to change their names to “salmon”, often an outlandishly long name that simply contained the words “salmon,” then back, it was not so easy for Indigenous to have their names recognized on national IDs.

Other challenges may remain. For example, there may be challenges regarding individuals who are of mixed Han and Indigenous descent being recognized as Indigenous, particularly regarding inheritance of Indigenous status as based on last name, or when individuals seek to take on names drawing from both sides of their backgrounds. Laws largely also do not make provisions for individuals who may have more than one Indigenous background and so may have names in more than one Indigenous culture, another way that mixed Indigenous recognition has faced many obstacles in Taiwan.

Indeed, there may also be problems regarding the rollout of the new system, in line with many continual problems that have long plagued Taiwanese bureaucracy–all the more so when it comes to sensitive cultural issues. To this extent, Indigenous sometimes face issues when traveling abroad because airline check-in systems do not recognize their names, or because immigration questions why Taiwanese individuals have names in Roman characters.

Council of Indigenous Affairs. Photo credit: Solomon203/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 4.0

With a number of Pingpu groups currently seeking recognition as officially recognized Indigenous groups, it is to be seen if the powers regarding naming that the legal amendments grant to the Council of Indigenous Peoples are used fairly. Namely, the Council of Indigenous Peoples has tried to push back against efforts by Pingpu groups to seek recognition in the past, proposing creating new categories such as “Pingpu Indigenous peoples.” It was claimed that more resources would be devoted to cultural preservation efforts under this framework, but this was rejected by Pingpu activists, with the view that this would be a lesser category that still did not mean full recognition.

Indeed, Council of Indigenous Peoples head Icyang Parod was among those to take a stance against Pingpu recognition. Indeed, the pushback against Pingpu recognition is linked to fear of the limited resources provided for Indigenous groups to maintain their culture being further divided through Indigenous recognition. Moreover, there were concerns about individuals with unverified backgrounds being able to claim Indigenous status through an expansion of the criteria for legally qualifying as Indigenous. Such concerns also led to pushback against calls for recognition of mixed-race Indigenous.

This is likely to prove contentious territory with regards to the Council of Indigenous Peoples codifying Indigenous names regarding newly recognized groups. As such, even if the changes to the Name Act allow for more space for Indigenous names, Indigenous names are still likely to run into issues within the framework of the ROC state and the relevant juridical institutions by which it deals with Indigenous issues.

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