What’s in a Name?
As I’ve been having and hearing conversations about ethnicity and inclusion, one topic has come up more than once. It goes something like this:
“Sometimes People of Colour feel the need to change their name to make it easier for White people to pronounce. For example, you often see Chinese people anglicizing their names.”
Usually when I hear this, the speaker’s intention is to support Chinese ethnicity, and encourage them to be proud of their culture.
I totally agree with that concept, but I don’t feel that I’ve compromised my ethnicity by having an “English” name. And I believe many other Chinese people feel the same.
But I have definitely experienced exclusion and discrimination about my “Chinese name”, which the perpetrators may have been oblivious to. Let me explain.
Names as identity
When my parents named me, they gave me an “English” name, Rosie – this is typically referred to as my “first” or “given” name. My last name (aka family name, or surname), is Yeung. When I introduce myself to anyone new – whether Chinese or other – I say my name is Rosie Yeung. That’s how I identify.
They also gave me a name in traditional Chinese language, which I’m not going to tell you (for reasons I explain later). I don’t think of them as two separate names; they’re all my names, they’re who I am. Maybe the closest comparator, is to White people’s “middle names”. You usually call people by their first and/or last names; but you don’t typically find out a person’s middle name(s), let alone call them by those names.
My parents and family (all Chinese) refer to me alternately as Rosie or my Chinese name, and I answer to both. Actually, it’s a little weird when they call me Rosie if there are no White people around.
Rosie is not a translation or anglicized version of my Chinese name. It’s just my name. It’s not a name to make it easier for White people to pronounce. And this is true of most of my Chinese friends. Their first names are their given names, and are not a “compromised” version of their Chinese names.
So where does the discrimination come in?
It’s happened to me many times, and it goes something like this.
Them: "What’s your name?"
Them: "And what’s your Chinese name?"
Can anyone else relate to this?
Othering by stereotyping
FYI - I hate that question, “What’s your Chinese name?” I see it as the equivalent of: “Where are you from?” “Canada.” “But where are you really from?”
Here’s my question back to you. Why do you want to know?
You may think you’re just making conversation, or showing interest – but I receive it as a type of discrimination against my identity and my ethnicity.
This might become more clear if we change the scenario a little bit. Let’s run the conversation again:
Them: “What’s your name?”
Me: “Ching Chang Chong.”