Why Aditya Chakrabortty (may have) called himself Paul

A 'Welcome to Haringey' sign outside a shop on a road in Wood GreenThis morning I saw a Twitter thread (starts here, ends here) from Haringey councillor Joe Goldberg, purporting to expose the middle-classness and inauthenticity of the pro-little-people and anti-establishment stance of the Guardian columnist Aditya Chakrabortty, who has been a strong critic of the Labour council’s “Haringey Development Vehicle” (HDV), which involves selling off whole tracts of public property, including housing and a library, to a private developer which is expected to demolish most of it. This has led to a local revolt with a number of pro-HDV councillors deselected from the forthcoming local election and the (female) council chair resigning, blaming bullying and intimidation. The thread claims that on a previous occasion, Mr Chakrabortty took a similar “David versus Goliath” position on a major redevelopment project, championing the opponents as “David” and conveniently ignoring an ‘elected’ chair of a local residents’ association (I have not investigated this myself so I do not know how representative this “residents’ association” was) which supported the project. The Twitter thread claimed that Chakrabortty claimed to have been brought up in Edmonton, a deprived part of neighbouring Enfield borough, but in fact was brought up in well-heeled Winchmore Hill and went to a grammar school there.

Other people have condemned the thread as stalkerish behaviour unfitting of a local councillor. One tweet stuck out for me, though, the one where Goldberg claims that Aditya was called Paul when at school, though this may be a case of mistaken identity (e.g. another Aditya Chakrabortty). Perhaps he wants us to think that his real first name is Paul and Aditya is some sort of affectation. I can think of a simpler explanation, namely that he wanted to stave off racism from white peers who would have wilfully mispronounced his first name or at least not bothered to pronounce it correctly.

At my first secondary school I had a half-Polish friend. His first name was James and his second Władysław. His dad was known as Bob, and I never found out his real name but it was longer than that and it wasn’t Robert (he had a business refitting old pianos, or “shitty pianos” as he called them). His surname was also one that has a direct English equivalent but the Polish version was always mispronounced. James and I and a third boy had a conversation once, in which the third boy told me James’s middle name was what sounded like “Wuddiswuff”. I repeated this to James later and the other boy said, “no, it’s Vwuddiswuff!”. I thought this was even more absurd and laughed out loud. It was only years later that I saw the name written down and it kind of made sense — a lot of Eastern European names begin with “Vlad” (we’d had a Vladimir in my junior school, who wasn’t Russian) or have “slav” in them (like Miroslav) and this was just the Polish rendering of it.

And I didn’t make fun of James’s middle name but others might have done. So, you can understand why Bob, James and Paul didn’t want to use their names from back home in front of white English peers who would have mocked or at least mangled them, and if Joe Goldberg knows a thing or two about life in the multicultural but deprived inner London borough whose council he sits on, he should know this.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons, released under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0 International licence.

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