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Ken Leanfore: What's in a Surname?

A new photography exhibition exploring Chinese Australians living with Anglicised surnames.
By Matt Abotomey
February 03, 2017
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Ken Leanfore: What's in a Surname?

A new photography exhibition exploring Chinese Australians living with Anglicised surnames.
By Matt Abotomey
February 03, 2017
  shares

A quick search for the origins of the surname Leanfore yields few results. A website called forebears.io lists it as the 6,300,947th most common surname in the world and estimates that there is only a single person on the planet who carries it.

According to Sydney photographer Ken Leanfore (陳漢駒) — not the only Leanfore, but it's certainly a short list — this is due to a tendency by immigration officials in the 19th and 20th centuries to anglicise or create phonetic spellings of migrant names they couldn't understand.

Leanfore is fourth generation Australian-Chinese but is often mistaken for having French heritage. This set him wondering about the experiences of other Chinese Australians with "dodgy" approximations of their original names and how it might affect their sense of identity. The result is a photographic exhibition called What's in a Surname? at Klei Gallery in Albion Place, held in conjunction with Sydney's Chinese New Year Festival.

His subjects are all Chinese Australians whose unusual names sometimes place them at a distance from their cultural heritage. Harvey Young, a farmer from Glen Innes, for instance, says that he is often approached over the phone by members of the Young clan in Scotland looking to reunite him with his relatives. "It doesn't take long to talk them out of that, though," he says with a grin.

Image: Dennis O'Hoy AM 雷社源, Lei She Yuan - Pinyin, Leui Sai Yuen - Cantonese. Harvey Young, 關少雄, Guan Shao Xiong - Pinyin, Kwan Siu Hung - Cantonese.

Photographs by Ken Leanfore. 

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