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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

August 29, 2005

Written by C.N.

Asian Names: Americanize or Not?

AlterNet has an interesting article written by a young Vietnamese woman on her struggles about what name she should go by — her given Vietnamese name or an “Americanized” one that is easier for Americans to pronounce. This article isn’t exactly a news item, but it is a common issue that many Asian Americans inevitably face at one time or another:

In school, I would see girls named Linda, Anne or Susie whom I know weren’t called that by their mothers. I respect their decision to make their names into something easier for others to pronounce and understand. A name is an important thing, and being able to create your own is powerful. It means you can choose your own identity over the one your parents chose for you. But I made a different choice. . . .

Even though the schools I went to were filled with Vietnamese students, I had to Americanize my name for the teachers in order for them to pronounce it. Even then, I’d have to come up with a story to help them remember my name. I’d tell them to use the “Bingo” song:” clap, clap, N-G-O, clap , clap, N-G-O, and Thuy Ngo was her name-0.” When you think about it, it’s kind of sad to have to go through all of that trouble just so your teacher will remember your name.

I can personally relate to this article because as I’ve explained to many friends, colleagues, and students, I also used the American name “Sean” throughout high school and college but eventually decided that it did not really reflect my “rediscovered” Asian- and Vietnamese-American identity any longer after I began studying sociology and eventually realizing that my ancestral roots are a source of pride and inspiration, not of shame or embarrassment.

I wanted to go back to using my given name “Cuong” but didn’t want people to constantly mispronounce it. Ultimately, I compromised and decided to just go by my first and middle initials “C.N.” The author of the article poignantly describes how the choice of names is so often fraught with anxieties and mixed reactions from both Asians and non-Asians.

But in the end, as she notes, it is a something that you have control over so it should be one that is meaningful to you, not necessarily anyone else.


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Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Asian Names: Americanize or Not?" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2005/08/asian-names-americanize-or-not/> ().

Short URL: http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/?p=125