Five Calgary city councillors talk about their real names

Five members of Calgary city council use a name in their political life that doesn't always line up with their birth certificate.

Abbreviations, middle names or just like the name: councillors open up about the names they use

Calgary city councillors talk about why they don't use their real names. (CBC)

Calgarians might be surprised to learn that five city councillors do not use their real names.

It's a curious thing, given that in politics your name often becomes part of your brand. 

Are these elected officials not being true to themselves? Or are they just going with what's practical, comfortable or familiar?

It's not your everyday question but I recently asked them:  Councillor, what's your real name?

Without further ado, let's meet these councillors. 

Councillor Harnirjodh Chahal ​

Coun. George Chahal chose his first name as a child. (CBC)

Chahal said his birth name is one with religious meanings and comes with a lot of history behind it. 

From Punjabi, he said it translates in English as, "God's immortal warrior."

But the rookie councillor said, "I like George."

And he has been George since his pre-school days. 

He recalls how the switch came about as one day, when he was young, he got into trouble for something and he was asked for his name.

"I said my name was George Washington."

Huh?

"I loved the name George and we've had some amazing people throughout history that were named George so why not?"

From then, he just kept using the name George.

Chahal said nobody calls him by his real name, not even his parents.

"I've actually considered legally even using George but I think out of respect to my parents and grandparents and generations before me, the importance of the name was given to me and out of respect for that, we'll keep it as is."

And by George, that's how it will stay. 

Councillor Wen-Hsiang Chu

Coun. Sean Chu chose a name that sounds like part of his real name (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Sean Chu came to Canada in the 1980s from his native Taiwan.

But even before he arrived here, he said he was known as Sean.

Soon after came to his new country, he recalls being at a barbecue with friends. "The daughter said 'Hey, your nickname is Sean. So why don't you just use Sean. S-E-A-N.' And I said 'I like it.' So at that time, that was how the idea started."

When he applied for his first Canadian passport, Chu said he needed an affidavit stating that he'd been using Sean for a number of years and the name was added to Wen-Hsiang Chu in his passport.

Eventually Sean became his first name and Wen-Hsiang his middle name.

Now, he's just Sean Chu.

He said his mom still calls him Wen-Hsiang but he feels no need to revert to his real name.  

Sean is, "who I am. Not changing it at all." 

Councillor Prabhjote Gondek 

Coun. Jyoti Gondek goes by her nickname. (CBC)

The rookie councillor said it's important for her to use her full and legal name whenever she signs documents.

But Prabhjote Gondek says she's always been better known by a shorter version of her first name.

"Jyoti is the typical abbreviation for Prabhjote in Punjabi or Hindi. It's very much like William is Bill or Bob is short for Robert," said Gondek.

As for how that came about in her case, she said her parents started the habit but everyone has called her Jyoti since childhood.

"People who are of Indian origin get it because they're used to it. People who are not tend to struggle with it," she said.

"It's a little bit like being an Indo-Canadian if you will, I find Peggy to be a very strange abbreviation for Margaret. Yet most people who are exposed to that name get it."

And if you're wondering about the meaning of Prabhjote, Gondek said it translates from Punjabi as "a little flame" or "light from God."

"So when I light myself on fire in (council) chambers, now you know why!" 

All joking aside, she said that she hopes everyone known as Jyoti can, "get a little exposure out of people like me getting into positions like this."

Councillor Eric Jones

Coun. Ray Jones uses a shortened version of his middle name, just like his dad. (CBC)

Who?

That's right. Even the longest-serving member of Calgary city council isn't known by his real name.

To most, he's Ray or perhaps even Rundle Ray, his home community in northeast Calgary. But his real name is Eric. 

As for why he's been known as Ray all his life, it sounds like either his dad's to blame, or it's what has become a family tradition.

"My dad was Thomas Alfred and he went by Alf. Second names. My son is Randall Scott and he goes by Scott. We all go by our second name," said Jones.

"Except my girls. They go by their first names," he said smiling.

Jones signs documents using his full name (Eric Raymond Jones) and uses Eric in email accounts too.

But does actually anyone call him Eric?

"My doctor. Revenue Canada," he said laughing.

"Everyone calls me Ray."

Councillor Biagio Magliocca

Ward 2 Coun. Joe Magliocca chose his name because it's easier for many to pronounce than his Italian first name. (Mike Symington/CBC)

When he ran unsuccessfully for city council in 2007, his lawn signs said Biagio.

But in 2013 and 2017, the signs just said Joe. 

"Biagio is really a true, traditional Italian name and there's a lot of Biagios in Italy," said Magliocca who readily and often talks about his family's heritage. 

But how he came to be Joe isn't just a derivation of Biagio. 

Magliocca said many people couldn't say his first name. "They'd say 'bee-ah-jo', 'badge-jo' and then they'd just call me 'joe' and I'd say 'Just call me Joe. That's my middle name. Just call me Joe.'"

He said when he visits Toronto, family members all call him Biagio. But to friends, it's Joe. 

When he was growing up playing road hockey, one of the other kids on the street was a guy named Paul Coffey, who went on to become an all-star defenceman in the NHL.

"He used to call me Joe the Slasher," laughs Magliocca, who jokes he's moved on from shins to budgets.

Any thoughts about going back to the real deal, Biagio?

Nope.

"I heard a lot of feedback from a lot of people [in the 2007 election], saying I can't even pronounce your name. How do you pronounce it?' And I said: Just call me Joe."