This one is for everyone whose name is pronounced differently in America than it would be in your family’s original language. Angela and Annie discuss how even a simple name like Wang can be a hallmark of assimilation, a source of trauma, or an opportunity for reclaimed identity.
Tell us how you define Taiwanese! Send us a voice message on Instagram, Facebook, or at heartsintaiwan.com/voicemail and we’ll mail you a Hearts in Taiwan sticker.
“America Ruined My Name for Me” by Beth Nguyen
“When the Teacher Doesn’t Even Try to Pronounce Your Name” by comedian Tien Tran
Visit our show notes for more about the topics in our episode
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[0:00] I remember him just falling over laughing because then he brought up he said man what bubble did the two of you grow up in because Angela didn't know either.
[0:29] Welcome to the Hearts in Taiwan podcast where we explore and celebrate our connections to Taiwan.
I'm Annie and I'm Angela and every episode we unpack an aspect of our heritage and experiences that have shaped our identity.
[0:43] One of the most defining aspects of the Asian American Experience is how Americans say your name.
I'm gonna put it out there I'm going to say Wang is the best last name. This is our family namely even though you I publish as Angela Yu I grew up under my maiden name.
Angela Wang which mirrors your name yes so we share we share Wang as our last name our family name.
[1:14] It means king
so yes definitely the best last name apparently it's the most common surname in the world it's an easy character to right and super easy to recognize yes as a.
Chinese student I definitely appreciate how easy aren't you her name is to write and it's fun to pun it's fun to make puns out of what puns do you know so I have definitely been called.
The Wangster so I'm very familiar with that
I embrace it fully sure yep and there's flexibility of like if you pronounce it Wong you can say things like two Wongs make a right
which is we are two Wongs there you go you're so right we're so right hundred percent on that yeah but
to that point we are saying it Wang which is the American way of pronouncing it and that is based on its spelling because the
pinyin is W Ang.
[2:22] And when American see that they think it's pronounced like the rhyming with hang or bang fang so that's why it like.
In America everybody that sees our last name W-A-N-G pronounces it Wang.
[2:39] But in Mandarin Chinese the actual pronunciation is Wong like.
Like rhyming with them with the English words long or song
and it's the same character the same Chinese character as when you see
other Chinese people who spell it W-O-N-G and the general rule of thumb is that in Mandarin
the because the pinyin is W Ang if your family immigrated from a mandarin speaking population their name got recorded as W Ang and if they immigrated from a Cantonese speaking population then their name got recorded as W Ong.
And I'd say every person with this surname that W Ang spelling has to make a conscious choice
of whether to teach other people to pronounce it Wang or Wong so we clearly have been seeing it the American way unless we're speaking Chinese and so I wanted to unpack.
Why do we do this.
[3:43] I remember when I was a kid I would hear my mom speaking with customer service representatives and they're always they always ask what's your name and she would always pronounce her last name is Wong
and I was like it's so awkward because your name is spelled w Ang so.
Like why don't you just make it easier for them because when they hear Wong
and they see it spelled W-A-N-G they're going to be like I didn't hear that right so I'm like just say it so they'll understand what you're like what you're smelling and they don't get it wrong but like so that was like.
[4:18] Annoying to me when I was a kid and I was like why she keep insisting on seeing her last name is Wong when it's clearly spelled Wang
so for me I would be like I'm going to pronounce it Wang because that's how it's spelled and that's how people
will know the connection of like how to spell my last name and how to say it
it's like much easier one of the hallmarks of assimilation is making it easier for the host culture to pronounce your name how about you Annie what did how did your parents say
our last name
so I actually never thought about it or paid attention to how my parents said it but now that I've been forced to think about it.
They've actually always said it Wong huh
and it's always been like that and I had always said it weighing but I never recall them ever telling me that it should be pronounced Wong like they never corrected me or anything like that.
[5:21] So I'm actually really curious now to hear what their thoughts are on it did they even notice that I would do this or not because they definitely didn't bring it up to me
yeah and so because I never thought of it
about how to pronounce it for myself or paid attention to how my parents pronounce it I just went with Wang because that's how everybody else would just.
Pronounce it by default so.
[5:49] In a way I did the same thing like what you were talking about around the assimilation is I let the population dictate to me.
[5:59] How to pronounce my name hmm and I remember at one point maybe Elementary or middle school I remember I noticed there was a Wong and a wang.
Spelling and last names because we had some classmates ahead both ways of spelling it and so I asked I forgot who I asked but I remember asking and somebody told me that
Wong like what you had mentioned earlier Wong was a Cantonese Americanized version and Wang was the Mandarin Americanized version and I.
[6:30] Didn't think anything past that I literally just said okay and then I moved on and continued to save my name Wang.
So when you got married you added your husband's name.
[6:43] To your name so I'm curious to wonder what did you think about your.
W-A-N-G last name as you were going through this thought process of changing your last name to match your
husbands yeah I definitely thought consciously about it because I know that as a woman like you lose a lot of
say professional recognition if you know part way through your career you drop your former identity and you change over to a new identity so it was definitely a considered decision of whether to change my last name
but actually because of the awkwardness of having two
decide and reconcile between the Chinese pronunciation and the way it's spelled
that caused me to actually be eager to change my last name in order to escape that
and I think it's a terrible reason to want to change your last name is because it's been awkward for assimilation it all feels like a.
Metaphor for this concept this feeling of having Perpetual Foreigner status which a lot of
a lot of Asian Americans feel in America is that no matter how long we've been here no matter how many generations because we are visibly different in our appearance.
[8:09] We're always liable to be treated as a foreigner
and we've seen a lot of that this year with the AAPI targeted hate of like go back to your country and calling it China virus and like basically us being associated with a country that we've never lived in.
Or or being seen as something like our citizenship and our place here are belonging here being able to be taken away at any given time.
When we hear him history events like concentration camps and deportation it's basically like you could get kicked out of your home country I consider this my home country at any given time.
Just space because you look like you're easily identifiable as someone who doesn't look white doesn't look like the majority here and that's a huge liability and that's a huge.
Like underlying undercurrent of insecurity that is like fundamental to our experience here no matter how much like we feel like we've assimilated we still look different.
Then the majority yeah you're totally right and talking about last names and trying to make it easier for the host.
[9:25] Call it country to pronounce it you think about there's some pretty.
Complicated European last names but nobody ever balks at having to figure out how to pronounce those.
And so it seems like this type of thing around your name.
[9:46] Is really a primarily Asian based issue I mean Schwarzenegger.
[9:54] Yeah I mean Kardashian yeah yeah there's all these things out there nobody ever talks about how that makes them feel
makes anybody that is not Asian with a complicated last name seem like a foreigner their never put in that position so it's a really.
Yeah and I have like another trauma that contributes to my self-hatred even though I like.
[10:24] Really feel like I should be proud of our last name but in elementary school.
[10:30] I'll paint a picture for you I was exactly what you would expect I was a shy quiet well-behaved scrawny little.
Chinese girl in in fifth grade and there was this boy who he was a tall.
white beanpole of a guy who we only had like one incident he wasn't like a constant bully or anything but he was teasing me on the at recess
and I don't know why he chose to Target my name
and it could have been any name I don't think it was necessary because it was a Chinese name but he taunted me with my name like it was just my name like it wasn't any.
Insult or anything but he just used my name to taunt me and I was like standing there like.
You have a blank wall with this tall boy
he's just coming at me he's like Angela Wang Angela Wang Angela Wang like getting in my face over and over just saying my name like it was just my name
I was like oh what's my comeback going to be like one of the sad things about me is that I am not witty I'm not quick on my feet and so I am always in this position where I think.
[11:57] Hours or days later of what the right come back would have been I've been smarter so I never I never him over there baby but in this case I had
lots of time to prepare what my reaction would be to him because he said he kept saying it over and over again Angela Wang and I was like
I'm gonna gear up I'm going to show him and so like the next time he came at me Angela Wang
I went up at him and I was like Asshole! he was shocked like he was taking it literally he leaned back he was like
whoa like first I think he had like never heard me talk and then second of all for me to use a swear word like
that was surprised that was a big deal for me for me to curse at him hit like like if there's any like
justification or a lesson that a child learns of like how powerful these words are she don't like that felt very powerful
oh my God I did not know about this Angela.
You'd rather look at you know what's it like it's like so sad like that like that that was like my big showing of have strength.
[13:19] Like it shut him up and say hey that's an accomplished okay like I didn't have anything like clever anything I just like I like.
I don't swear a lot but that was one time when it did work for me.
And mainly because it was a big surprise coming out of like my Persona and like how I look so yeah that that trauma just like using my name against me like made me it contributed to me being
ready and willing to change my name when I had the opportunity with marriage.
Um to change my last name dang Angela learn something new about you every time we talk I constantly impressed by you.
Yeah but like one of the things that like
amazingly that that whole teasing incident had nothing to do with something that we learned late in life.
About our last name oh yeah I remember this this the synonym.
[14:23] Of which are last name is to the word penis.
Hmm do you remember yeah that was a true but I do remember that there's these moments in time right where your memory is so vivid of an incident I don't know how it came up but it was the three of us we were going to get food over by
your house somewhere and we were talking I told him that I didn't know that Wang was a synonym for penis until after college.
And I remember him just falling over laughing.
Because then he brought up he said man what bubble did the two of you grow up in because Angela didn't know either.
Yeah it's true I I didn't realize that you I mean I knew about Johnson like a lot really I've since like high school or something but.
[15:18] Somehow our community was so kind to us is to not throw it in our face our name or last name is a synonym for penis so
thank you to everyone who who knew us in our adolescents for not throwing that in our faces.
[15:37] But like the whole point of learning to want to
change your name because of how Americans pronounce it I read an article recently in the New Yorker about this kind of same issue but with a worse consequence of having of bringing in an ethnic name into America and the the name of the article is called
America ruined my name for me and I will link it in the show notes but it's by
and author who goes by the name of Beth Nguyen or Ngu-yen and that's another like for Vietnamese people that's another example of like acclimating your last name for American tongues because
when you're young and in elementary school and your white teachers see your name on the roster they
stop at your name and N-G-U-Y-E-N and they don't know how to pronounce it so then you as a child have to.
[16:40] Educate them
of how to pronounce your name and remind them over and over again how to pronounce your name but that's that's not the side of her name that she is writing about she's writing about her first name which she
she came with her Vietnamese first name which is pronounced big it's spelled B-i-c-h
and when American kids or Americans see B-i-c-h that pronunciation was cause for a lot of teasing and Trauma and
really a frustrating experience so she did change her name to Beth and that's a really unfortunate outcome from.
[17:28] How intolerant this country is and has been for other cultures so I recommend that you read that article is a quick read and I felt like it echoed a lot of our
Asian American experiences with ethnic names yeah and this actually makes me think of this one comedian
Tien Tran, she is vietnamese-american and she has this bit will link it to in the show notes but she has this stand-up comedy bit that she did a while back about growing up
when she was in the classroom this one teacher she was calling down the roster everybody's name for roll call and she came to her name.
[18:07] And her name was actually pronounced H I don't want to give away too much of it because I can't do it justice but is her / name is written H-a-n-h.
T-i-en and she talks about how this teacher ended up actually pronouncing her name.
[18:25] Mmm so okay it's it's she's really funny and it's like a funny take on this exact issue.
That we're talking about yeah I always wish I had the comedian's wit to like humor as a coping method mechanism and it diffuses a lot of tension and.
I think people who are able to use humor in situations where they're harmed it's is really admirable but it's also makes other people comfortable with with the harm that they're causing you.
So on the wing theme that like we discovered that there's a book
called the wings versus the world I haven't read it yet but you've read it right yeah so I'm in the midst of reading it and there is
an excerpt from the beginning of this book that we will put into the show notes as well but it speaks directly.
To what we have been talking about at the end of the day it's talking about this character this guy named Charles Wang.
And him moving to the US so you hear how I said that Wang Wong pick your pick your your pronunciation and.
[19:43] His experience.
[19:47] Coming to the u.s. but this particular excerpt really is talks about the name W-a-n-g.
[19:55] How it was turn from the Chinese word.
Wong to this in the US and I'll just give one little hint it says the end of this excerpt it says.
One move to America and Charles.
Wang Wong how do you want to pronounce it but Charles Wong's proud surname became a nasally joke of a word.
One move and he went from King to cock.
[20:24] Isn't that just such a perfect summation of like our name means king and in America it means cock oh my God like how denigrating
so it's but they're just perfectly sums it up yep so check out in the show notes I think that paragraph is a really
powerful articulation of the way that Asian names can become bastardized as soon as they moved to the US.
So any based on this discussion.
[20:55] Are you going to change how you pronounce your name great question I've been thinking a lot about this and I'm going to make the conscious effort moving forward to pronounce it wrong hmm what about you Angela
I would like to also and I don't I don't have as much opportunity because I changed my last name.
But I will when I pronounce your last name I will pronounce it Wong and this is not to say that I'm going to force it on anybody else because I know that everybody has their individual choice and
I think when.
[21:33] Someone is like I know better than you how to pronounce your name I think that's really grating so I'm not going to say that every every Wang I encounter I'm going to like start calling them long but for people who
who say their name Wang I'm going to mirror that I think that's like a really tricky thing is like
I do hear when people used to presumptively some rare people used to presumptively call me Wong
and I'd be like oh they're like showing that they're woke playing whatever they like they like no the right way and I was like okay but it felt more like a flex from them.
Then them really like taking the time to know how I preferred it individually but I mean appreciate them like trying yeah I that's funny you mentioned that because a few people I've encountered in my work environment.
Have done that recently they've act but they've actually asked me.
[22:29] Do you pronounce it Wang or Wong hmm and that's right I would rather pronounce it right then reinforce something that.
They don't align with so thank you for communicating your preference.
To to pronounce it Wong and I will respect that I'll support it and be mindful about like how I word to other people when I ask them.
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So our question is how do you define Taiwanese and do you identify as Taiwanese yourself.
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[23:54] So you can record yourself answering these questions about definition of Taiwanese and what how you identify yourself and.
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send us a direct message and tell us by text what you think about our question
this will really help us understand like what is the current attitude because of the the special nature of Taiwan is that
it's not like a very isolated and static population where you could be very clear when someone is Japanese when someone is Korean.
And and so the Taiwanese identity it has meant different things in different decades so.
[25:42] We want to understand what is it today in the year 2021 and I think it's going to be pretty different from.
What we heard growing up and especially very very different from what our parents have been describing to us because that wasn't a totally different era of Taiwanese history.
[26:03] If our discussion of our ethnic name inspires do consider understanding the origins of your name and mindfully choosing how you represent it.
If you want to share your thoughts with others on the same Journey post with hashtag hearts and Taiwan to help the hearts and Taiwan Community find your story.
[26:21] The music you hear at the beginning and end of the episode is the song Level Up by Vienna Teng which is produced by Cason Cooley and Vienna Teng.
[26:29] We'd love to hear from you let us know what you thought about this episode what your name means and what you want us to explore and ask about in a future episode.
Until then follow your curiosity and follow your heart.