When East Meets West: The Journey Of My Mixed Asian Name

Hello My Name Is....  221/365
By Guybe

I used to despise the first day of school. Teachers would go down the class list calling out names and I could tell when they got to mine by their confused looks and their long, silent pause. I would instantly raise my hand, but what would follow would be the inevitable name slaughtering, making me the instant target of relentless teasing from my peers.

When naming me after my father and grandfather, my immigrant parents were only doing what they thought was right. Names have come a long ways since then (who would have thought we’d have a president with a name that rhymes with Osama). However, Asian names continue to challenge folks, as was exhibited in 2009 when representative Betty Brown from Texas proposed legislation for Asians to adopt names that are “easier for Americans to deal with.” What she failed to see was that like the color of your skin or the language you speak, names are so much a part of your identity. Now, I’m a new parent, and recently went through the process of choosing a name for our mixed-Asian daughter. She is Korean, Filipino, Belgian American, or as I call her, a Kore-Belgi-Pino-can (try finding that box on a census). Given the crazy times I had with my name throughout my life, finding a name for our child made me to look at my own identity journey and wonder what my child’s will be like.

My parents came to the States in the ‘60s and I was the first of three sons born in this country. I was named after my dad, Guido Slangen, a traditional name in his homeland of Belgium. My middle name, Bernabe, comes from my maternal Filipino grandfather. However, this full name only shows up on my passport and birth certificate. All my life I went by a nickname – a Filipino tradition used to fool and ward off evil spirits. My parents were creative and combined my first and middle names to come up with Guybe, and that is what I have been called as long as I can remember.

For years I hated my name. I’ve heard all the different incarnations imaginable: Gaybe, Goobie, Gumby, even Gandhi. I’ll never forget the day in grade school when they discovered what my name was in Pig Latin (I’ll let you figure it out and have a laugh, but just imagine if that was you in 5th grade). My parents didn’t see the big deal in my name, and just thought it was one of the many things that made me unique–a tough sell for a young kid growing up in a predominantly white, traditional New England town. But as they say “That which does not kill you makes you stronger,” and as time went by, I saw the logic of my parents’ ways. I came to understand that my name was only one part of me, and those that judged me as different or ignored me because of it were missing out. There is so much more to me, or anyone for that matter, beyond our names and that is what my parents were trying to pass on. This is not to say that names are insignificant, quite the contrary. Names are just the first of many stories that will continue to shape who you are.

Finding a name for our child was a powerful reflective process for me, and it was one that has made me really appreciate all over again what my parents faced as they started a family in a country that was very different than their own. I’m thankful for my parents’ choice in names for me. In the end, it’s not how others define you but rather how you end up defining yourself. I knew that whatever we chose for our child–be it Western, Eastern, or something in between–we’d be there to help her along her journey to make that name her own. (And yes, we tested the name in Pig Latin beforehand.)

Oh, and her name is an East-West mix just like her (drum roll please)…Olivia Tala Jun-Slangen. To confuse the evil spirits, we just call her Livi.

About Guybe: I’m a husband, an educator, a dreamer (“but I’m not the only one”), and now I’m a dad. I’m also doing my best to figure out all of the above… and not screw things up too much in the process.

[Image Courtesy of bump]

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