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Asian American Identity: I Used To Want My Last Name To Be Less Ethnic For My Career

By June 4, 2019 4 Comments

Photo of Rosie Chuong wearing RMS Beauty red lipstick in color 'Rebound'Up until a few years ago, I banked on the idea that changing my last name would give me more career opportunities assuming I’d take on a last name that was NOT Asian derived. I believed that reading what seemed like a very American name on my resume or email address would erase any preconceived notions of me and my Asian identity before I showed up to an interview. My first and middle name (yes, my first and middle name really is “Rosie Mary”) was already Americanized. A change to the last name would be the final step, I figured.

When I told a (non-Asian) friend this, she said she felt sorry that the world was set up in such a way where I felt like my own name was holding me back. It was then with her words that I realized what I was doing to myself. I was trying to dilute the Asian-ness about me because, exactly as my friend pointed out, I didn’t believe I’d get very far in life if this one crucial identifier stuck around me.

But my eyes have since been open because I realize now that it’s not me or my name that needs to change. It’s the unfair practice of assuming one automatically knows the performance and work ethics of another human being based on their ethnic name, that needs to change. Do you feel like your name alone has affected the opportunities you’ve come across in life?

SHOP THE STORY

Hair: DevaCurl Styling Cream + Ultra Defining Gel
Makeup: Laneige lip sleeping mask layered over RMS Beauty lipstick in ‘Rebound’ / Nudestix matte bronzer in ‘Sunkissed’ layered over Orce foundation in 040 (it’s one shade lighter than my normal skin tone)

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Vidya Betesh says:

    Hi Rosie! I have felt this way too. I am a recent immigrant to the US (2012). I am an Indian and I have an Indian First Name (Vidya) many Americans have a hard time pronouncing. My maiden name was even more difficult (Balakrishnan) my husband’s surname is decidedly ethnic too (Betesh). I used to want to be Vivianne Bates or Valerie Bowden but I felt like that would be a dilution of who I am and it would take away a part of me that I am proud of and shrink my self worth. I feel like it hasn’t been easy with Jobs, having a diffrent name and sometimes wonder if I’ve just been hired to check off a box in the diversity and inclusion category.

    • Rosie says:

      Wow Vidya your last line just hit my core. “Sometimes wonder if I’ve just been hired to check off a box in the diversity and inclusion category.” I wonder that all the time too. There’s opportunity that comes with that, but it always feels like “only one of us” gets to have that privilege while everybody else still suffers. I’m so glad we connected on this. I have more thoughts, it’s just sometimes hard to put into words. Thank you so much for sharing with me your experiences of immigrating to the US and what it’s been like. I’m sure you have so much more to share. <3

      • Vidya Betesh says:

        I remind myself often that my name means so much more. “Vidya” in sanskrit and Indian philosophy means science, learning, knowledge and scholarship; but most importantly, it refers to valid knowledge which cannot be contradicted. It means true knowledge– knowledge which is self intuitively gained. My name is unique in the Western world , people stumble over it. I have been called “Video” and people have thought it was a spelling error for “Lydia”. Autocorrect usually changes my name to Vodka. Would it be easier to be Lydia, Victoria, Viviana? Of course! But my name means so much more to me now that I am no longer in India. It’s a badge I wear proudly of my roots, my heritage but most importantly it is a beautiful name with great cultural and philosophical meaning.

        According to legend, the origin of Cheong/Chuong goes back 4,500 years to a grandson of the legendary emperor Huang Di of China (2697–2595 BC), surnamed Hui. Hui invented the bow and arrow, and was put in charge of their production. In honor of his deeds, he was given as surname the character pronounced Zhang (but also romanized to Chung/Cheong/Chuong), which is composed of the symbols for ‘bow’ and ‘long’, meaning to ‘stretch open a bow’. Your name holds power. Don’t let go of that.

        • Rosie says:

          Oh Vidya. It was so touching to read your comment and I thank you for reminding me to stay close to my roots instead of trying to yank it out of my soil. I also just love that you’re able to feel that connection to your name because you understand the meaning and history behind it. You seriously touched me with you taking the time to look up where my last name may have originated from. I honestly had never taken the time to do that. Thank you for that. <3

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