I'm So Great: The Rantings of a Jaded Youth

When I grow up, I want to be just like me.

And Your Name? May 1, 2011

I work in security. For those of you who haven’t read my rants about it, it’s not as tough as it sounds. I sit in a very hot or cold little shack all day and check passes outside of a gated community. In doing so, I end up working with a lot of different cultures. One of the things that has always struck me as odd (and, in my job of checking lists and turning away accordingly, vaguely annoying) is the way a lot of Asians and Middle-Easterners westernize their names. Samir becomes Sam, Mohammed becomes Max, and Jangwoo becomes Jasmine. I understand the annoyance with outspoken, old white people who can’t pronounce their names or purposely mispronounce them (my dad). I get that fitting in is easier than sticking out. And I can sympathize with all of that in a roundabout way because I’m fat and a woman and I used to be a hardcore anime fan. Obviously I’m not saying that racism is the same as making fun of someone who owns all 26 seasons and 7 OVAs of Whatever-chan, Girl Superhero, but I understand trying to blend in.

The apparent logic falls apart though when I think about going to another country and changing my name to one of their names. If I went to the Middle East and told people my name was Suneetha or lived in Mexico for a year and said I was Estefana, I’d feel like a damn racist. Why don’t I just call everyone there Ahmed and Jose while I’m at it? I’d also feel like I was severely underestimating the national intelligence of my country of choice. If you know your name is hard to pronounce in a foreign tongue or uncommon in your new country, say it slowly, be prepared to spell it, and don’t get too hurt if it’s spelled or pronounced wrong. I’m not stupid. If you tell me your name a few times, I’ll get it no matter what it is. I can only assume the same of everyone else, give or take a few tries and not accounting for old people, who hate change and young people. I respect people more when they’re brave enough to give me their real name. Well, when they’re brave enough to just be themselves. If you’ve got a foreign name or accent or way of dress, don’t try and hide it. Own it. And if aspects of the new culture you’re immersed in are appealing, well own those too. Stupid people will always try and get you down, whatever your perceived flaw is, and the worst part is that, most of the time, they don’t even actually care.

None of these observations are new though. I went to school with Nedas and Bishoys, and a lot of the high-schoolers today feel no shame in telling people their given names are Bahar, Asad, or Ienna. That’s kind of what I love about living in the age we’re in, in the country I’m in. People worry about being singled out when they first move here, and they are regarded warily for a little while because they’re new and different. Then they make friends at work and their kids all go to school together and see that these kids aren’t any different from them, and within a couple generations everyone is accepted as normal. The strange becomes mundane and the world moves on. It’s awesome.

I guess I can’t really blame first generation Middle-Easterners and Asians for wanting to blend in when they first get here. I can’t imagine picking up my life and moving to another country, so I have to give them credit for bravery and for paving the way for their kids to be part of the All-American melting pot. Still though, if you don’t introduce your culture to us, we’ll never be able to accept it as normal. You’re laying the groundwork. The more we hear Parwaiz, Wagdy, Wei Young, Chul Ho, and the phonetic difference between Nguyen and Huynh, the less outlandish it becomes.

Feel free to weigh in if anything I’ve said was offensive or outright wrong. I say all this from the perspective of a white-washed mongrel-American.


6 Responses to “And Your Name?”

  1. renxkyoko Says:

    My real name is Spanish, and as common as Smith , even here in the USS.

    • Stephanie Says:

      I changed my last name here so the company I work for doesn’t fire me for posting pictures of my boobs up next to talk about my work. Lol, seemed like a bad idea.

      • ElfDa Says:

        haha seems logical :b

        i like this rant; i was friends with a set of idntical twins from China named Helen and Linda.
        They lived in my dorm and made a point of using only their English names. After I learned that their real names were Ling Ju and Ming Ju… I understood their reasons for picking new names a little better; twindividuality. Nothing makes you feel less like a seperate entity than having a name that freakin’ rhyms with your twin’s.

        our folks gave us very different names. :)

        • Oh god, lol. I would hate to have a rhyming name with my twin. That kind of self-reinvention I can get behind.

          What makes me crazy is when I ask someone’s name and they go, “Mahadava–*huge theatrical sigh* Just say Max.” Like I wouldn’t be able to remember the phonetic pronounciation of their name. It seems like Middle-Easterners trend toward thinking white people are too stupid to pronounce their names and the Asian community tends to be embarrassed that their name isn’t white enough. I’ve always been pretty unapologetic about things that are uniquely me, including my kind of trendy-sounding name, so I hate to see people compromising a part of themselves because of what other people might think. It makes me think of when I was in elementary school and every kids staunchly agreed that Power Rangers was a totally dumb show and then raced home to watch it after school. If just one kid had been like, “Wait, I like that show.” Then maybe everyone could have talked about it without worrying about being made fun of. If everyone could just drop the self-defensive mask, we could all talk a little more freely and worry less.

  2. Julie T. Says:

    I work at a large public university in Florida where we see more Asian, Middle Eastern, Indian and Latino students combined than white students. I have observed this phenomenon but I can’t say I’ve sensed that Middle Easterners thought white people were too stupid to pronounce their names or Asian people were embarrassed of theirs. That may certainly be true sometimes but I think these choices are much more complex and personal than any generalizations we can make about other cultures. Unless we ask people why they use Anglicized names, we don’t really know. To give you a personal example, a student I got to know quite well is Vietnamese and goes by the name Trish. Her husband and four children also use Anglicized names. I asked her once what her “real” name was and those of her family, and why they used “American” names. She told me the full names of each family member: they each have an American name, a Chinese name and a Vietnamese name – and each one means something important to them. Her husband is Chinese-Vietnamese. She is Vietnamese-American. I had not known before, but she has an American grandfather. She is Lin-Phuong and she is also Trish. I think each name, whether it is chosen for us or we choose it, has someone’s very personal story associated with it. Anyway thanks for an interesting discussion and for being so receptive to feedback.

    • It’s definitely true that names, nicknames, and aliases are very personal things and I wouldn’t presume to say that every person’s reasons are exactly the same, but the pattern-seeking ape strikes again. Like I said, I’m a security guard so the majority of people aren’t open to me asking them personal questions, and most people whom I see generally don’t want to see me or talk to me for any longer than they have to. The generalizations in this post were mostly based on observations of the upper-middle-class people going in and out of my gate all day, which definitely isn’t a great cultural cross-section or a time when people are at their best.

      During my sporadic college experience, I was paired up on several projects with a girl whose school records all said Gopal Kashani, which was a constant source of confusion because in her culture everyone takes on their mom’s last name and their dad’s last name, giving them two last names plus their first and middle names. The school’s computer system, which generally can’t even fit all of my first name, is not set up for that many names so her mom’s last name was put on everything when her dad’s last name was the one she and her siblings answered to. I’m sure I had a point with this story…

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