I remember in the sixth grade when this new kid came to class. He was one of the few black kids at our school, and on his first day he answered Mrs. K’s questions as best as he could.
“Your name is Filet Mingon?”
She said it louder and slower, “Your name is Filet Mingon?”
“Your parents,” she was really exploring the weight of her words, “named you, Filet Mingon.”
The Young Turks recently reported on the prejudices and impact a person’s name has on their career. But we knew this already, right? I mean, the video is funny and interesting because it’s true. My b/f and I couldn’t stop sharing all of our name stories. When he writes his post I’ll link to his because he was cracking me up.
My name has definitely impacted me. My first name is Hawaiian, my middle name is Thai and my last name is British, even though I am not ethnically Hawaiian or British. Although, it’s interesting that Hawaii’s flag is the only US flag to feature the Union Jack.
In Hawaii, Lani, is a pretty common name. My Chinese grandma named me such because I was born in Hawaii. I was her son’s first born and since my mom just arrived from Thailand, my parents probably wanted to give her the honor. So, growing up with a Hawaiian name I was frequently asked if I was Native Hawaiian, and everyone knew how to say it.
But once I left Hawaii for college in Colorado, or when I lived in California between 13-15 years old, folks found a way to say my name wrong. If you are old enough to know who Loni Anderson is, then I would tell people to say my name like her. Basically, people would use say the “a as in average” instead of the “a as in awesome” 😛 The Brits really like to use the former “a” sound.
My college professor, the very British Dr. Duke actually had an argument with me during class, over the correct pronunciation of my name. Ye-ah. And since Thailand has its fair share of Brits, I’m awarded the incorrect articulation of my name on a regular basis. So, I return the favor with my horribly bad British accent which they say sounds Australian. Bastards.
The Thais can say my name because it’s easy. It ends like lots of other Thai words with that “ee” sound. When I went to a fortune teller he told me if I spelled my name like this ลานี then I would have fortune. But if I spelled my name like this…ลาฌี then I’d have success. (Damn it, why can’t I have both?)
Overall though, I like my first name, I always have. My last name, on the other hand, sounds like male reproductive members. I hate having to say it because: a) folks think I’m calling them a cock, b) I end up spelling it anyways, and c) they are confused as chicken feet that my name isn’t Chen, Zhang, Wang, Xiu or Li.
Basically, my Chinese father was adopted by Mr. Cox, an American-British, and he took on his adopted father’s name. In fact, his first name became John, named after Mr. Cox’s brother in Montana. So, Hwa Lin Chu became John H. Cox. And there you have a personal example of the continuation and tradition of many immigrants changing their ethnic names to sound more American.
In junior high, I remember the boys started calling me by my last name. In high school, a group of mean girls wrote my name as “cock” on our group project. I quietly corrected them and hated them for being such bitches. When I started teaching at a primary school, it was really weird to be referred to as Miss. Cox. Then a few of my girls started calling me Miss Coxy, as a term of endearment, but the parents didn’t like it.
I didn’t think much of this until later, but when I was interviewing and applying for jobs, employers were mildly surprised when they read my name and saw me. I was often asked if I was married, because Cox couldn’t be my maiden name.
By now I hope we have outgrown what my last name sounds like. I used to want to change it to my future husband’s name, but then I thought, when I’m famous no one will know who I am. Seriously, the way I think sometimes is highly amusing.
My middle name is Valapone and I know already you are saying it wrong because it’s spelled not the way you’d say it. Thai sounds don’t really translate well into English. I actually loathe reading my Thai students translated names because they often are not said the way they are spelled. Foreigners, for example, think it’s HILLARIOUS that there is the name Porn. But you don’t say the “r” sound, so it’s essentially, Pon.
If my name was spelled the way it sounded it would look more like this, Walapon. Interestingly, I remember one of my coworkers asking me if my middle was Italian. I guess he thought the ending –e had that Italian flair like spaghetti or rigatoni or Maserati. Ah, Ray, swell guy.
Valapone comes from my mom, obviously, since she is Thai. It’s supposed be one of her names, but like a good Thai, she’s got a gazillion names. Her Thai friends in Hawaii call her that, or Pon for short. In Thailand, she has a different nickname based on her full moon birth. And in the US, her formal name is usually shortened for ease, so the public calls her Jan. How she keeps track of all of these names is beyond me, but apparently, it’s normal.
Well, we better not get into nicknames and pet names, eh? How has your name impacted you?