Asian American

How has your name impacted you?

how-has-your-name-impacted-you

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?”

“Yes.”

She said it louder and slower, “Your name is Filet Mingon?”

“Yes.”

“Your parents,” she was really exploring the weight of her words, “named you, Filet Mingon.”

“Yes.”

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?

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38 thoughts on “How has your name impacted you?

  1. So, did you choose fortune or success for your Thai spelling?

    My first name is “Ho” with no middle name and last name is “Chang”. So, I ended up with two Chinese last name but I’m Korean American 🙂 Not a typical Korean name.

    Now I grew up near military base in USA and went to a school that was dominated by blacks and minority … with name “Ho”. I’ve heard ’em all. After university days, I have to deal with some websites which don’t take two-letter as first name and I think 1/2 of my credit cards had “H. O.”. And some records (my university and professional diplomas) were filed under my first name instead of my last name 🙂

    And some people, not wanting to offend me, always say “Hello” instead of “Hi”.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. OMG. You poor thing. I can only imagine. Did you learn to hate your name when you were being teased? Did you ever consider a name change or being called by your last name? And I would never have thought to use “hello” vs “hi” so that your name sounded less offensive. Wow. I think you could easily write a full post or two on your name’s impact.

      I chose success, long before I knew the meaning of it. I find it prettier 😀

      Like

  2. When we became American citizen (we tagged along with my parents), we had a chance to change our name. My sisters took “western” name along with their Korean name so “In Sook” became Lynn In-Sook and “Jin Sook” became Jean Jin-Sook with their Korean name becoming legal middle name.

    I refused to change my name as I (in delusion?) was/am a firm believer in pluralism/multiculturalism in America. What can I say? I was young and idealistic 🙂

    I never had negative thoughts about my name. At least people didn’t forget my name 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for sharing your story. How interesting. It’s so great that you still loved your name and didn’t change it! Woo-hoo! Asian power 😛

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  3. LOL!!!! I love this post 🙂 Incidentally, we were just talking about names at the office lunch table yesterday and think that it’s hilarious sometimes how parents name their kids. Sometimes you’d think they’d have better foresight. That said, yours was not a product of parents being weird.

    I think you would be called Lani here the same way they do in Thailand, being another Asian country. And as we discussed before in a thread, there are lots of Pinoys in Hawaii so I’m noy surprised about your name (as for the real origin of the name, that I don’t know). I like your last name and actually created a character for a story before whose last name was that, but the story did not prosper. As for the middle name, I immediately assumed it was Italian as well, he he.

    I don’t think my own name has an impact on anything except that I’m not really fond of Jennifer. The name itself is not bad, but because it’s so common, and I don’t even have a second name, I knew I would have namesakes (first and last) somewhere and I was right. Gigi is my real nickname, often shortened as Gi. So now I use J.Gi, keeping the J to still somehow be loyal to what my parents gave me, as a form of respect. Besides, J.Gi is unique…I think he he 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jennifer was a common name when I was growing up, but I don’t have any negative reaction to it. I think this is b/c I have great friends named Jennifer 🙂

      When I was teaching primary school, Hannah and Emma were common names. It’s funny how names become trendy.

      I like your name! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. LOL again!!! I’m so slow. Just realized you recorded this, too, he he.

        I do like Jennifer, just not for me, he he. It’s really because I grew up with many others named the same around me. In gradeschool, there were lots of Jennifers and I was stuck with being called Jennifer F. so there’d be a distinction. In every level, I was classmates with with various Jennifers with last names starting with L, C, and my long-time classmate from third- to sixth-grade, B. In high school, our batch fortunately did not have another Jennifer BUT there was one named Jenny. Why didn’t I tell my classmates my nickname instead? I was afraid I’d be teased because there’s a kind of fish here called galunggong that people sometimes called G.G….Ugh. So people got stuck with calling me Jennifer and I let that stay till high school. In college, my classmates called me the same but I let others learn my nickname and use it already.

        So call me Gi 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. In Thailand, if we have a student with the same time, we call them, for example “Jennifer 1” and “Jennifer 2”. But now I use the “Pi” or “Nong” reference – “Pi” is for older and “Nong” is for younger. I have 2 Nuts in my class (boy, that sounds like the beginning of a joke), so I call one “Pi Nut” (seriously) and the other, “Nong Nut”.

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  4. My name is Jennifer, but go by jenny. Which I didn’t for a long time when I was younger. Apparently a genny is a female donkey, so i was called donkey girl for much of my tweens (it didn’t help that I had buck teeth, ugh!). I don’t know if it made me a stronger person or not or whatever though. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What? A female donkey. Jeez. Kids can be sooo cruel. I think it’s funny when soon-to-be parents think about all the ways their kid’s name can be twisted and teased.

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      1. We have to! Haha I thought long and hard about our daughters name, Zoë, but I couldn’t think of any way that kids could make fun of her name. I am sure they will find a way though 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      2. OMG. That reminds me of name association. Your daughter’s name reminds me of a bar’s name in Chiang Mai. I know, right? Why? It’s called Zoe’s in Yellow.

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    2. He he…I like Jenny but I really would prefer that people call me Jen instead if they want to because there are lots of Jennifers with Jenny as nick he he. And now that you mentioned about genny,..LOL!!!! I kind of like Ginny, though, but no one’s ever going to call me that…Ugh I’m so weird, sorry, he he

      ~Gi~

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Loved reading this. I was given a Korean name, Yun Mi Ra, but, of course, I never thought of it as mine. Occasionally, staff at Korean medical centers would use it – guess it was a pain to use foreign names on forms made for three syllable Korean names – so I had to get used to hearing it sometimes. My (completely real, non-virtual) name is Irish. Both my first and last names are actually boy’s names, too. . .so I got a lot of “last name-first name” jokes growing up. People never seem to realized that it was old news. Aaaand I also sometimes get weird looks because my last name isn’t Lee, Kim, etc. Oh well.

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    1. Thanks. It was fun to write.

      A boy’s name! Well, then you would do well in male-dominated fields, according to all those name studies. Do you make more money, too? 😛

      Do Korean names have meaning? Do you like your real name?

      Like

      1. Haha, never tested it! My Korean name means “shining silk” I think. I liked it, since I never met a Korean girl with the same name 🙂 I like my real name because it’s fun and androgynous, just kind of common.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I am Linda Sue. Maiden name of Fowler. Children teased me and called me Foul Ball and I really hated dodge ball because I was small and couldn’t get out of the way fast enough. Only one friend called me “Flower” which I thought was the sweetest thing. My father named me after my cousins Linda and Susan. Thank goodness my mother didn’t get her way or I would have been named “Fincha Sue” Oh, I can hear it now…..”Here comes Shark Fin Soup”

    I always thought Lin sounded sweeter and lighter than Linda but couldn’t get anyone to oblige me. When I met Vince and found out his previous girlfriend was named Lynn I decided to stick with Linda. I know, silly of me. Several decades later we moved to another state and I decided to address myself as Lin and have been doing so since. I still like it even if it means “Tongue” in Thai!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey “tongue” in Thai isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Thais have such crazy nicknames, like Beer. Can you imagine?

      Fowler is such a common name. I can’t believe you were teased for that. I’m going to start calling you Linda Sue! Too cute ^ ^

      Like

  7. Ah names. Those of us with unique names think about them all the time, and those without, well, I wouldn’t know. My mom named me Audra Mae for two actresses in a couple of old TVLand shows. I don’t even know what they are anymore. Big Valley? Anyway, I hated my name growing up. It was so hard for people to say, it seemed. They couldn’t accept Audra. It had to be Audrey. And no one could remember that I went by both names. Audra Mae. Not just Audra.

    Eventually I got over it, but I started introducing myself as Audra to bosses and at school simply to counter all the ensuing corrections. I don’t know if my mom ever reconciled herself to it. My close friends still call me both.

    When I was in Taiwan I was Audra at first because it was shorter, but Audra sounds a little (just a little, but, you know, kids) like the Taiwanese word for cockroach. So the kids had a field day. Then I changed to Mae. It means beautiful in Mandarin, so it was better.

    My Chinese name is Sun Ao Xue, which, roughly translated, means “defying frost and snow.” Being of Scandinavian heritage, I love this.

    Names are funny things. On the one hand they don’t define us at all, and on the other they’re all we have.

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    1. OMG. How hard can it be to say Audra? I think it’s a great name.It’s unique and pretty 🙂 and Audra Mae, well, well, just makes you sound like the perfect Southern Belle!

      I think it’s funny how you got Otter Mei. Your cockroach story reminded me of my friend Mia – in Thai her name means “wife” and not in a good way. It is interesting how your name changes when you change culture.

      Love what you said and contributed. Your beginning and closing thoughts are classic! Thanks, Sun Ao Xue.

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  8. My first name is 1 syllable 1950’s name..Jean. I have never met anyone of the next generations with the name Jean.

    When my sisters married, they attempted to sort of still use their Chinese last name. But deferred to their hubby’s last name. Anyway….

    My last name forms my identity. My middle name is common traditional Chinese girl’s name: Lun…means orchid. However I had no clue what it meant until someone told me in my early 20’s. Before I was vaguely embarrassed to say my middle name..so “Chinese”.

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    1. My grandma’s name is Jean 🙂 You’re right…I can’t think of anyone younger, besides you, that has that name. Huh.

      I love learning the meaning of names. Interesting that you were embarrassed. Then again, we all want to fit in. I suppose your middle name didn’t come up very often though.

      Some folks don’t even have middle names, it’s not part of the culture.

      Like

  9. I enjoyed reading this. You had me saying all your names out loud during my reading though! Haha. I hate that kids are so mean! I never even thought about your last name being dirty. I guess I am too mature for that! 😉 My last name is Fugett but pronounced “few-get”. Most people are familiar with the name, as it’s pretty uncommon. Apparently the most natural way people want to pronounce it when they first see it is “fug-it”. Well, you can imagine that junior high boys though that sounded a lot like a certain curse word. It bothered me a little then, but surprisingly didn’t happen all that often. Now it’s just annoying to me that people don’t know how to spell it. I am always correcting it. I too think that I can’t wait to take the name of my husband and hope it’s a normal one. But actually, a normal last name would be boring now! I’d like a unique one, but one that doesn’t sound dirty and that can be easily spelled. Am I asking for too much?? Haha. Great post idea Miss Lani! (By the way, I’ve been saying your first name correctly in my head this whole time. Shew! I was off on the middle name though.)

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    1. Thanks. It’s a fun topic – names. I remember seeing your name “few get” maybe it was on Twitter, so I knew that was your name. It’s unusual, for sure, I can honestly say, I’ve never seen your name before.

      Ashley is a pretty name. I’m guessing your Chinese and Taiwanese students could say it alright, too 😀

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  10. Girl you have an awesome name with an intriguing history! I really enjoyed reading this post. One of my friends is Khmer/Thai/Chinese and her last name is Thai so she has that “porn” part in one section of her name (her full last name is 16 letters long!).

    I like the name lani.. It’s pretty and sounds like you’re such a friendly person!

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  11. It is really interesting how much names impact us. I have a very typical, traditional western first name and middle name–my maiden surname was Dutch and outside of Michigan’s Dutch community no one ever knew how it was spelled or pronounced…and I went from that tough surname to my husband’s Spanish surname…and if you don’t know Spanish or aren’t familiar with their phonics, it’s not at all obvious how to pronounce it (even the pastor at our wedding garbled it). I guess I was born for tricky surnames, and my boring given names make up for it.
    My husband, however, is named Angel. A rather normal name in the Mexican community of his parents….but in Michigan (or, say, China, where we live now) not particularly normal. He gets a lot of questions like “Is that your real name?” and his usual answer is “Actually, that’s my stripper name” because that’s the kind of person he is….

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That is hilarious. I love it. I will have to wait for an opportunity to use that line though because no one has ever asked me if that is my real name!

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  12. You are incredibly funny! I love your sense of humor.
    And you have an interesting family background!

    I never saw Cox as a male organ name. To me it sounds so awesome and very cool! I never knew it was British!

    Unfortunately I feel like in America people can be rather judgmental when it comes to names I think for first names than last names. Last names are okay because it tells you where you from. Less ethnically sound > the better it will be for job interviews and such.

    I actually wrote a blog post about having a unique/foreign name.
    https://aapirefugee.wordpress.com/2016/03/23/unique-name-quirks-and-joys/

    I think names are a great way for preserving heritage and traditions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I’m glad you found me 🙂 I shared your post on being Burmese American on Twitter. Are you on Twitter? In any case, I’ll read your post soon ^^

      Liked by 1 person

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