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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.

January 17, 2006

Written by C.N.

Changing Names Among Asian Americans

The Daily Northwestern college newspaper has an article that discusses a very common phenomenon among Asian Americans: changing one’s original name to an “American” name that should be easier for non-Asians to pronounce:

Whether they immigrate to the U.S. or have parents from other countries, some students adopt more traditional American names for a host of reasons. . . . Adopting a more traditional American name has a long history, [NU, Associate Director of the Asian American Studies Program Ji-Yeon Yuh] said. Ellis Island officials used to Americanize many immigrants’ names to make them easier to pronounce. . . .

“(There is) a long tradition of making fun of Asian names as nothing but grunts,” Yuh said. “It’s a racist tradition.” . . . But students with American and Asian names said they didn’t feel disconnected from their culture. Instead, they said there are advantages to having two names.

“I have both a Korean and American identity,” Han said. “Having an American and Korean name helps to kind of represent both of the cultures that I embody.”

Along with many other Asian Americans, I can personally relate to this story, since I also went by an American name for a while. Up until the 9th grade, I went by just my first name, Cuong. However, everybody pronounced it “Quong.” I got tired of that and because I wanted to just “fit in” like everyone else — another common theme across Asian America — from 9th grade until I graduate from college, I went by the American name “Sean.”

But after I started studying political science and sociology in college and learned that being Vietnamese and Asian American wasn’t a source of embarrassment or shame but of strength and inspiration, I decided that “Sean” didn’t reflect my rediscovered ethnic identity and pride anymore. I really wanted to go back to using “Cuong” but I didn’t want everybody constantly mispronouncing it, so I compromised and now go by my first and middle initials. Hence, C.N. Le.

I can appreciate that many Asian Americans don’t want to put up with the frequent embarrassment and humiliation of having their Asian names constantly mispronounced by others. At the same time, I hope that young Asian Americans out there eventually come to realize that part of being Asian American means asserting your own sense of identity that incorporates both Asian and American aspects.

In other words, I hope that, in the process of becoming American, they don’t forget that they are still Asian as well.


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

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Changing Names Among Asian Americans" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2006/01/changing-names-among-asian-americans/> ().

Short URL: http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/?p=195