Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
When my husband and I went to register our marriage a few years ago, I was asked by the clerk whether I would want to change my legal name. I was amused by the idea. It is an American custom for a woman to adopt her husband's last name. But in my case, I could have chosen an English first name for myself like many other immigrants do. That, plus my husband's Welsh last name, would make me a Westerner on paper. I couldn't help laughing when I imagined how people would be surprised when they met me in person for the first time after building up an image based on my name.
No thanks, I said. The feminist in me made it hard to imagine giving up my own last name for a man. And my self-conscious nature made it hard to even adopt another first name. So other than the switching from the pictographic Chinese characters to the Western alphabetical system, my name, to this day, remains intact.
This, of course, brought me some trouble in this country. Many people don't know how to pronounce it, let alone remember it. I have people I met years ago still calling me "hi, you." But that's fine. In a multi-cultural environment, one often has to pay a price more or less in order to maintain your own identity. To suffer a little is really not a big deal.
But more and more evidence shows what an Asian name brings cannot be simply defined as "inconvenience."
The latest came from some scholars in Canada whose newly published report found that people with Asian last names are 28 percent less likely to be called for a job interview than those with the same qualification but a Western last name. The study was based on data collected in Canada, but the authors told the media they believe the result can be applied to the US too.
Anecdotally, the concerns are immense. One disturbing incident happened at Columbia University, a top school for many Asian students. Many students with Chinese names found their name tags were ripped off from the door of their dorms in February while those of others were left untouched. The culprit has not been found but the incident attracted a lot of attention. The school has issued a statement to emphasize that it welcomes international students, and "Say My Name," a video some Chinese students produced in response, in which they shared the beautiful meaning of their Chinese names, went viral online.
While it is not a secret that the names of minorities often put them at a disadvantage in the US, most related studies focused on black people. For example, the National Bureau of Economic Research said in a study last year that job applicants with white names have a 50 percent better chance of getting call backs from potential employers than those with African-American names.
Another study conducted by Andrew Hanson, associate professor of economics at Marquette University, and released last year, found that having a black name reduces someone's credit score by 71 points. That could hurt a mortgage applicant badly.
The similar obstacles that today's Asians face is particularly alarming. Until recently, people thought these incidents were non-existent.
Asians are known for being hardworking. A Pew Research Center report in 2012 portrayed Asians as the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the U.S. A friend who works for a big corporation told me that Asians are no longer considered a minority when the company evaluates its diversity hiring goal because there are already many Asians among the employees. The rise of deep-pocketed Chinese tourists prompted retailers, shops and real estate firms to hire Chinese-speaking salespeople. And just a few years ago, a white poet stirred up controversy after he successful had a work selected for the anthology "Best American Poetry" by using a Chinese pen name.
But these stories may have belied the exact reason that Asian names are not well-received recently. Unlike black people, who may have suffered a great amount of discrimination but are still accepted as part of this country, Asians have always been considered as foreigners, no matter how long they have been living here. In the good times, their exoticism may make them more competitive. But when xenophobia is rising, they will always be the first put in harm's way.The author is a New York-based journalist. email@example.com