13 comments on “Checking Ethnicity at the Door

  1. Ummm…How do you know that Rep. Brown wouldn’t suggest that someone named Krzyzewski choose a more assimilated and pronounceable name?

    Overall I find the idea rather stupid, but – in the context of voting purposes – the Asians adopting an American name for identification purposes would make their voting registration easier and more comprehensive – especially since Mr. Ko points out in the article you’ve cited that they’re already partially doing that.

  2. @ Jonolan: Welcome to the discussion!

    Ummm…How do you know that Rep. Brown wouldn’t suggest that someone named Krzyzewski choose a more assimilated and pronounceable name?

    Has she? If you can find such an instance, I will have no problem conceding the point.

    Asians adopting an American name for identification purposes would make their voting registration easier and more comprehensive…

    How exactly? As far as I can tell, most Asian-Americans (or, for that matter, any other ethnic group) produce transliteral versions of their names using English text…a condition necessary for legal documents. Brown would only have a legitimate gripe if one legal U.S. document has Chinese text, while the other document has English text. Based on the documentation I’ve reviewed from my international students, that is not the case. It’s especially not the case for actual U.S. born citizens with ethnic names! Whether or not Brown can actually pronounce names like “Hyeonjin”, “Jiang”, or “Lui Xiao” becomes irrelevent if those names actually do appear on legal documents.

  3. I am ethnic Chinese. and I have two tales to tell.

    Tale number 1: London, England.
    When I studied there in the 1980’s, I soon learnt that nobody seemed to know anything about Chinese names and that they often used the wrong name as the surname. Furthermore, they were quite incapable of pronouncing it properly nor did they make an effort to learn. As a result, I adopted an Anglicized name for convenience. But it was not a big issue.

    Tale Number 2: Ottawa, Canada.
    I was studying here too but in the 1990’s. I was surprised that everyone I met from the University officials to the bank teller at the local bank all knew the rules regarding Chinese names and were able to pronounce my name correctly without even asking me. Although I did not think much of this name issue in U.K., I was most impressed that the Canadians took the trouble to understand Chinese names. This made me feel that the Canadian Society is much more caring. More importantly, it shows that this name issue is easily overcome with a willing attitude.

  4. Ah, yes. I’m so glad that Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher has such a classic “American” sound to it.

    Andre, I think it’s time for you to reintroduce your “Head shaking moments.” This story is prime candidate numero uno….oh, I’m sorry: “Number one”. “Numero” is too hard to pronounce.

  5. Here is the part of the transcript not released to the public:

    Rep. Brown: Mr. Ko, can you simplify your name for the panel?

    Ko: Gladly. You can simply call me K. Please don’t confuse that with Agent K…he’s a Man in Black.

  6. I know I’m usually labeled one of the conservative badguys on this blog, but I DO try to be far more culturally competent than many old and unchanging vanguards on the right. But, Rep. Brown makes a good point. If I lived in China and their government called for me to assume a Chinese equivalent to my name, I would do it…and without taking offense. My identity or my pride are not in my name.

  7. “My identity or my pride are not in my name.”

    Oh, I’m sure if you were in the Rockerfeller family tree, you’d be singing a different tune.

  8. Andre,

    My point was that neither of us know if she would ask for Russo-Slavic names to be simplified. You implication was that she was anti-Asian in specific, which is not proven by the available facts.

    There’s a problem for Asians when it comes to voting because often their IDs have different spellings and possibly name order (given v. surname). That’s the sort of anomaly that causes problems at the polls – as was mentioned in the article.

    As I said though, I think the issue is rather stupid. While it addresses a problem, it does so in a poor way.

  9. Hey Dre,
    I can see her point. Example: I knew a man who immigrated here from China who’s name was Abraham Bernstein. I asked him how he came to have such a Jewish sounding name. He told me that when he was going through immigration they asked the Jewish man in front of him what his name was and he replied “Abraham Bernstein”. Then they asked him what his name was and he replied “Sam Ting”.
    See, too much confusion.

  10. I don’t think Rep. Brown’s comments had any racist or anti-Asian tones. She was just being too culturally simplistic. Rather than trying to come at reasonable solutions to address legitimate concerns raised by Mr. Ko, she came up with some simple and non-sensical approach. Therein lies the problem.

    ” Then they asked him what his name was and he replied “Sam Ting”.

    IOne of my Chinese friends in college told that same joke to me once (the other name was different, but I get it). It stopped being funny when I found out there was a man really named Sam(uel) Ting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_C._C._Ting

  11. @Megan,
    Hi Megan. This is just part of my self-deprecating humor. I’m perfectly willing to look like a idiot (by telling one of the oldest jokes known to man) if it makes someone laugh. Even at my own expense. I just don’t want people to think I take myself too seriously. No offense to Samuel Ting.

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