I'm Asian-American — Here's Why I Gave My Kids The Whitest Names Possible

by Virginia Duan
Originally Published: 
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There is so much trauma around names for Asian Americans. For all people of color, really.

Sometimes it’s the complete inability by white people to say our names, or being asked if our “American” names are our “real” names, or the indignity of having more “palatable” names foisted upon us. For many of us, that dreaded pause right before someone fails at our name is a daily reminder that we do not belong here.

We are invisible.

We are not wanted.

We are foreign.

We matter so little that people can’t be bothered to properly speak our names.

And while I rarely encountered this problem, I refuse to ever subject my children to such debasements. Some parents choose to protect their heritage in their children’s names. I chose to protect my kids with the name privilege conferred by my multiracial husband’s stolidly German last name.

Unconscious name bias is no joke — and mediocre white people have been benefiting from their mediocre white names for time out of mind. If that German last name will offset even a fraction of the bias and bigotry my children will experience as multiracial and multiethnic beings, then I will bless them with it. Especially when their outward appearance will immediately mark them as “other” for the rest of their lives.

This is one way I defend my kids and myself from systemic white supremacy.

Also, what kind of racist bullshit is this insisting my children have ethnic names? Why should their external phenotype have to match whatever white America’s preconception of what their names should be? And why are ethnic names considered less legitimate or American?

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Just because I named my children “white” names doesn’t mean I’m erasing aspects of their rich and multi-varied identities. My children were born in America — just like my husband and me. They are people of color and American. They are “and” and not “or”; my children can claim both.

Plus, not only do my kids have access to their ethnic names and the culture around it, they are also participating in the diverse naming traditions of Asian Americans — who do not necessarily adhere to the same naming conventions of their Asian counterparts. In fact, most of the East Asian American friends I know gave their children two names: an American one and one that reflects their heritage.

And since when did white people get to claim names as their own? Especially when most names in the west are derivative of the multi-ethnic Byzantine Empire — which covered Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, most Baltic states, and Egypt — or Hebrew.

The caucasity.

My kids have Chinese names and American names; it is not a difficult concept. They respond to both names and have never been confused — as I, myself, did and do still with my own two names. I didn’t see the need to name my kids something obviously Chinese or Japanese to signal my children’s multiple identities. But if one day they choose to go by mainly by their Chinese name or a Japanese name — either derived from their Chinese name or a completely different one — then I will support them.

Now, some folks are of the “make them say your name and let them choke” naming philosophy and I fully support this agenda. If people can pronounce Tchaikovsky and Guggenheim with no difficulty, surely they can learn how to pronounce names from other languages. Plus, who am I to tell people what to name their children and why?

But also, why should my children’s beautiful and meaningful Chinese names be butchered by thick, bumbling white tongues? White people can take their “what are your kids’ real names” asshattery and go fuck themselves.

All their names are real.

We’re all just trying to survive the best we can while living in a country based on the twin lies of white supremacy and patriarchy. And I resent the implication that my children need to fit the white — or anyone else’s — narrative of what is an Asian enough name. There are multiple truths that exist in name-giving, and we can honor one without degrading the other.

Whatever their names, my kids are Asian enough. They are American enough. They are enough, simply by being.

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