Betty Brown: “Really, Just Change Your Name”

Texas Democrats are demanding an apology over state Representative Betty Brown’s comments during Texas House testimony on voter identification. She was quoted as saying voters of Asian-descent should adopt names that are “easier for Americans to deal with.” Ramey Ko, a representative of the Organization of Chinese Americans, testified at the committee meeting that many Asian people in the United States face voting challenges because their legal names and Americanized names don’t always match.

Brown suggested that Asian-Americans should find a way to make their names more accessible.
“Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese — I understand it’s a rather difficult language — do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?” Brown said. She later told Ko: “Can’t you see that this is something that would make it a lot easier for you and the people who are poll workers if you could adopt a name just for identification purposes that’s easier for Americans to deal with?”

What’s incredible about this exchange is that Representative Brown doesn’t find her remarks as racially insensitive. As an immigrant to the U.S. and one that had a particularly difficult name to pronounce, I was subject to a lot of ridicule as a child. Other children would mis-pronounce my Chinese name as “dum-dum”. This got so bad that my parents finally gave me an American name. But like many of the Asians that Ko talked about, my American name didn’t match my legal Chinese name for much of my life. When I first had the right to vote at the age of 18, I would have encountered the same issues discussed by Ko if I was required to produce identification. I clung to my Americanized name of Timothy for much of my young life, but when I went to college, I contemplated going back to my Chinese name. I even wrote some pieces under my Chinese name, but in the end for convenience I stuck with my American name.

The subject of Asian names in American society is no stranger to 8Asians. Just recently, guest writer Chunsoon, wrote a hotly debated piece on changing her adoptive name from her legal American one to a Korean name. Representative Brown needs to get a clue. For Asians self-identity has a lot to do with what we call ourselves, but little to do with what our names are legally.

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About Tim

I'm a Chinese/Taiwanese-American, born in Taiwan, raised on Long Island, went to college in Philadelphia, tried Wall Street and then moved to the California Bay Area to work in high tech in 1990. I'm a recent dad and husband. Other adjectives that describe me include: son, brother, geek, DIYer, manager, teacher, tinkerer, amateur horologist, gay, and occasional couch potato. I write for about 5 different blogs including 8Asians. When not doing anything else, I like to challenge people's preconceived notions of who I should be.
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