I think a post about the name of my blog is in order. I have two answers for why I chose this title. The first is simple: it’s a combination of my first and middle names; Natalie Boonxou became NatalieXou. But I also have a longer reason for bringing my middle name into this blog.
Before I get into the specifics of my name, I want to start with a broader idea. I’ve spent a lot of time around immigrants, particularly Asian immigrants, both students that I tutor and family members and family friends. A lot of these people, when they come to the US, give up their given name for a more-easy-to-pronounce “American” name. On the one hand, I do think that this name change is just for ease of pronunciation. On the other hand, I feel like there are a lot more questions behind simply wanting your name to be easier to pronounce.
For example, why do you want your name to be easier to pronounce? For whom should this pronunciation be easier? Are you embarrassed by your name? What else are you giving up when you give up your name? What ties to your culture are being severed?
I understand being frustrated when people can’t pronounce your name. I’ve dealt with it my whole life (my last and middle names are particularly difficult for most people to pronounce). I understand wanting to just pick something easier, particularly if you’re someone like me who gets embarrassed when people mispronounce your name or laugh at it. But I feel like, when you change your name, you’re 1) giving in to the bullies, which means they’ll continue to bully, and 2) keeping other people from having to think and contend with words and names they can’t pronounce.
I’m not here to say one should or should not change his or her name. That’s a completely personal choice and whatever choice you make is fine. But I don’t think it hurts to think about why you’re making that change.
Now, back to me and my blog’s title. I noticed that a lot of the blogs I follow contain the author’s name in the title, and I wanted to copy that format. Using my first name was a given, but I wanted to make this blog more unique than just “Natalie’sThoughts” or something like that. That’s when using my middle name became an option. And when I thought about using my middle name, I remember all of the events in my life pertaining to this name.
Boonxou is my paternal grandmother’s name. This grandmother passed away two years ago in Laos, my dad’s and her home country. I never met her or any of my dad’s immediate family. For most of my life, I have been embarrassed by my middle name. Growing up, my friends all had easy middle names–Marie, Anne, Lee, Lynn, etc. Nobody could pronounce my middle name and people would always make a big deal out of how different it was, and, being an introvert who generally dislikes a lot of attention, I hated this. I would, whenever I could get away with it, lie and say that I didn’t have a middle name if someone asked me about it. If I had to tell, I would just mumble it with a quick explanation (it’s my grandma’s name, she’s Lao, that’s why it’s weird). I knew that it was wrong to be ashamed of my name because it has so much culture and history attached to it. I’m ashamed that I was ashamed.
To help assuage my guilt and help others to not feel shame or embarrassment about their names, I’m taking back ownership of mine, along with the culture attached to it.
A few months ago when I was getting really upset with a lot of racist Asian jokes, Patrick made the comment that it was interesting because it seems like I try to distance myself from my Asian heritage as much as possible. And I couldn’t deny that. When I was younger, I was proud of being Lao. I was proud of the decorations in our home, I was proud of my dad’s accent, I was proud of being different. However, somewhere along the way, presumably when relations between my dad and me began to falter, I stopped bragging about my background. I pretended it wasn’t there, something that’s really hard to do when you’re constantly being asked by your class and teammates, “So what are you?” (People really need to learn how to ask questions like that appropriately).
Another reason for my estrangement from my culture is the fact that I really was not encouraged to express the Lao part of my heritage growing up. Aside from the decorations and some pictures, there was little to indicate our background. I didn’t learn the language, we were raised Mormon rather than Buddhist, we ate almost exclusively American food, and we had American first names. The only tie I really had was my middle and last name.
I always have had hope that I would get married, simply for the sake of changing my last name. That hope helped me accept my last name, knowing that it would be temporary. But I could never get rid of that pesky Boonxou. And I will never get rid of it. Now, I also will not let people laugh at it or give backhanded compliments. That name is one of the only ties I have to my background, and I want to start using it to start learning more and creating more ties.
To tie this back to the beginning, this thought really starting when I heard a Korean student whom I’ve tutored several times tell someone that his name is “Chris.” I know it’s not Chris, and as I watched him walk down the hall, I just wanted to yell as loudly as I could, “Whatever your name is, it rocks!” Because it does.
*More food for thought*
George Washington Gomez is a really awesome piece of literature that deals with this issue of naming to which I can relate. Note: I’m not saying that my experience is the same as a child growing up on the Mexican/American border, but there are elements in the book that are pertinent to my experience as well. And it’s just a book that I highly recommend, especially to anyone interested in Latin@ issues and literature.