RCC Honors History Project

Texas lawmaker: Asians should change their names to make them ‘easier for Americans to deal with.’

Posted by mcelynrh on April 15, 2009

I know that we have not dealt much with Asian immigrants, though they were mentioned in Riis’ book. I just thought that this article was interesting and went with I believe it is essay topic # 2 and just overall incorporates to certain discussions we have had in class.

Here is the article:

On Tuesday, State Rep. Betty Brown (R) caused a firestorm during House testimony on voter identification legislation when she said that Asian-Americans should change their names because they’re too hard to pronounce:

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.

Brown later told [Organization of Chinese Americans representative Ramey] 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?”

Yesterday, Brown continued to resist calls to apologize. Her spokesman said that Democrats “want this to just be about race.”

The responses to this article are very interesting. Such as a man saying, “I suppose that she thinks that they should all get plastic surgery so that they look more like us…”



4 Responses to “Texas lawmaker: Asians should change their names to make them ‘easier for Americans to deal with.’”

  1. nrohr said

    What??? That’s almost unbelievable, but it does fit in perfectly with the themes we’ve been discussing, particularly regarding this idea that a prescribed construct of whiteness is what constitutes true Americanism. When Brown says “we,” who is she talking about? We white people? We who are already here? We whose ancestors did us the favor of immigrating first so we didn’t have to face the hardships that they did? She goes further than to suggest that Asians might change their customs, their language, their culture, but insists that they must also change their names, our most basic claims to identity. Plus, on a more practical note—why would anyone learning Chinese even be brought up. You can learn someone’s name without learning their language! “Adopt a name that’s easier for Americans to deal with.” Again—an “Americans vs. you who thought that you could be an American” mentality. Welcome!

  2. chad612 said

    This sounds like the Ellis Island policy reoccuring. My great grandfather on my mother’s side was told that he would be at a disadvantage with a name as Irish-sounding as “Donen”, so he went for the more German-sounding “Durner”. That wasn’t actually a real German name though, so everyone named “Durner” is related to me. More recently, I worked with a girl from Eritrea named “Seide” who pronounced it “Sadie”. She said it wasn’t her real name, but someone in immigration pressured her to use it so she could “fit in better.” Unfortunately, he didn’t use the common spelling, so everyone still assumed she was foreign when they saw it in writing, and it still wasn’t her real name.

  3. mcelynrh said

    It is interesting to note that it is not just happening in the U.S. My friend’s grandfather, who was a sea captain, was sent to Japan. When he arrived there he was told by someone that he should change his name to make it sound more Japanese. He was given this “advice” so that his family would not be killed. Immediately he made up the last name “De Magno.” It does not really sound Japanese but I guess it sounds less Filipino.

    Is this Japan taking after policies of the U.S. or do you think that name changing to better “fit in” has always been around?

  4. kameron1 said

    I think conforming names is a constant “thing” throughout human history, although forcing someone or a group of people to change their name just to fit in with the larger society, I’m not sure.

    One thing I found interesting is whether or not Betty Brown had even considered her heritage and where her name came from.

    Interestingly enough, I looked up what her last name means:

    Brown Name Meaning and History
    English, Scottish, and Irish: generally a nickname referring to the color of the hair or complexion, Middle English br(o)un, from Old English brun or Old French brun. This word is occasionally found in Old English and Old Norse as a personal name or byname. Brun- was also a Germanic name-forming element. Some instances of Old English Brun as a personal name may therefore be short forms of compound names such as Brungar, Brunwine, etc. As a Scottish and Irish name, it sometimes represents a translation of Gaelic Donn. As an American family name, it has absorbed numerous surnames from other languages with the same meaning.

    Evidently Betty Brown’s last name went through a number of conversions. Presumably, these differnet orgins and forms of the last name “Brown” must have been forced by conforming for society’s sake. Perhaps “brun” or “broun” was to difficult or culturally unacceptable. These original forms of names were a part of a culture or identity; Perhaps Irish, Norse, or Germanic. Unfortunately these orignal forms of “Brown” converted with the cost of losing some part of cultural identity.

    Brown’s ignorant suggestion to Asian-Americans to “adopt a name that we could deal with more readily” perpetuates the erosion of culutural identity and the push towards “Americanism” where every one’s name is John Smith or Mary Jones.


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