I changed my name from Habib to get a job. Here’s why I changed it back

The night my father, John Habib, was recently diagnosed with aggressive terminal lung cancer, he had a dream. His mother, Shafika Habib – who died when he was young, was making his bed.

John Habib with his grandchild Frankie-Jean.
John Habib with his grandchild Frankie-Jean.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about my dad, his mother and their lives ever since. He doesn’t have much time left and as I watch him slowly slip away, I’ve become somewhat obsessed with my surname. Despite struggling with the jokes and taunts as a young adult, I feel as though I finally have clarity and truly see and feel what it means.

Habib is my father, it’s his mother, it’s every member of my family tree that waded through the quicksand that is life’s inequalities, trauma and tragedies to get me and my sisters the life we have now.

Habib is the parting hug my parents gave their siblings as they left Lebanon in the late 1970s, many of whom they would never see again except when looking at their obituary from a country more than 12,000 kilometres away.

Habib is the chicken bones thrown at my father as he walked down the street in Sydney when he immigrated and was called “wog”. Habib is the broken glass of my parents’ Lebanese bakery on September 16, 2001, just days after the twin towers terror attack. Habib is the callused hands of my father, having worked in cigarette fields in Lebanon from the age of eight. Habib is family, love, tragedy, sacrifice, determination and grit.

Rashell Habib, not Habit, is head of digital news and strategy at Paramount Australia.
Rashell Habib, not Habit, is head of digital news and strategy at Paramount Australia.

When my children were born, my Anglo-Australian husband wanted them to have my surname, but I gave them his because I did not want them to struggle. But now I feel like I betrayed my father. His mother. My ancestry.

I also can’t stop thinking about when I changed my name to Habit in a post-September 11 jobs market, and I couldn’t get a call back until I changed it. Had I not, I doubt I’d have had the opportunity to prove myself in the industry that led me to use my real name and be where I am today. Nor, I suspect, would I have been able to get further up the career ladder in a post-Cronulla riots world where my surname somehow came to mean “I hate Australia”.

I am very aware of the fact that I am not alone – nor is this siloed to purely Arabic names. I knew this even before the release last week of Monash University research on recruitment discrimination. The researchers submitted 12,000 job applications to more than 4000 job advertisements to investigate hiring discrimination against six ethnic groups for leadership positions. One of the groups was Arabic.


The bottom line was “ethnic discrimination is particularly pronounced in the recruitment of leadership positions”. Ethnic minorities received 57.4 per cent fewer callbacks than applicants with English names for leadership positions, despite having identical resumes.

I implore everyone to read the report, which points to enduring bias, both blatant and unconscious.

But I care less about leadership positions now, and more about legacy. Having a lasting legacy is a strange concept, one I had never invested much thought in until we were told my father had a couple of months to live. What will his legacy be? How will he never be forgotten? It won’t be a gold statue of my father erected in a park.

My father’s legacy will be my children. My nieces and nephews. His legacy will be my work. It will be the opportunities I give to people to work in the media, knowing to look past their names, their schools and their postcodes.

It will be the stories I tell my children, Frankie-Jean and Lennon, of why their mother was able to live freely in a country she loves and succeed in an industry she adores.

Dad, Baba, I know that soon you will sleep in the bed your mother made you, I hope you’ll know that you made her proud. Just as I’m proud to bear your name.

Habib. It’s so much greater than a comedic caricature for a television show. It’s so much deeper than a slang word thrown around whether endearingly or accusingly. Habib is Arabic for beloved one. And to you, my beloved father, John Habib, I will wear your name with pride for the rest of my days.

Rashell Habib is the head of digital news and strategy at Paramount Australia.

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Source: Thanks smh.com