What's with the Chinese name? Matters of Identity

As I'm redesigning/restructuring my portfolio site (yet again), I'm coming across the dilemma of whether I should use my Chinese name. Do I include it in my logo/brand identity? Why? What should I expect from doing this?

Rob Meyerson, in his article "Two Names, One Logo: Integrating Chinese and Non-Chinese Names in Logo Design," breaks down some of the merits of including a Chinese name for a corporation, but for an individual, the questions becomes personal.

What are you? Where are you from? What kind of Asian are you?

Growing up in America, growing up in Massachusetts, there isn't much of a question of what I am. Where are you from? I guess I was Chinese and there was never an acknowledgement or option that I could be anything else. The Springfield public library only gave me answers about the big China and nothing else about being Chinese here. Strangers from a Different Shore was not available until 1998. There was only so much I could digest from textbooks. If I wanted to learn more, I'd have to find out more from a college library. 

Until then, my family and I endured the quiet minority stereotype. I was expected to know kungfu and be all kinds of different. I was sought out for after-school fights walking home. I picked up phone calls where people swore at us and told us to go home. This isn't a sob story; it was reality.

After high school, I went out to Boston, and from Boston I left for Los Angeles. Being Asian in Los Angeles was radically different. I wasn't just Chinese. It wasn't enough. The question became, what kind of Chinese are you? I was ABC (American-born Chinese), but my Chinese was too good to be second-generation Chinese.

I learned that I needed to affiliate myself with a type of Chinese-ness. What kind of Chinese was I? Where did I stand on Taiwan? Where are my parents from? Where did I learn to speak Mandarin? Where is my husband from?  

And now the question has become, what kind of Asian/Chinese-American do I want my son to grow up to be?

How comfortable are you with your cultural heritage?

Well, I consider myself not really ABC and not really FOB (Fresh Off the Boat), if you know what I mean. My parents immigrated to the States and I was born here. I was the gatekeeper, the translator, of the family. My parents knew enough English to run a Chinese takeout restaurant in 2 hours outside of Boston and Springfield didn't have much of a Chinese community that I could identify myself with until my high school years.

Moving out to Los Angeles for college, as you can imagine, was a cultural shock. Apparently, my Cantonese was fluent enough to pass as a native Hong Kong-nese though I lacked the colloquial slang and mentality.

Culturally, Los Angeles gave me a couple of things:

  1. I acquired a Cantonese circle of friends
  2. I learned to speak Mandarin without too much of an awkward accent
  3. a skill of distinguishing between southern and northern Chinese accents

And of course I know my way around dim sum. I can read, I can write in pinyin. My mastery of writing Chinese characters are at the same level as a 5-year old, but I can read Chinese subtitles and follow along modern Chinese dramas.

How is this part of your identity?

Living in one of the largest Asian meccas in the United States, it makes sense for me to establish this cultural aspect part of my identity. I'm not being political about this, but it's a topic that comes up when meeting other Asians/Asian-Americans for the first time. Usually, the name gives it away, and when that doesn't provide much information you're trying to figure out from my accent and mannerisms where I'm from. 

If you follow me elsewhere, you'll have noticed that my username is lauggh. It's a concatenation of my English name and my Chinese name in some non-standard romanization of Cantonese. LAU + G (race) + G (in) + H (o) . Clever, huh? I've used this handle since my AOL days in high school.

The innate rules of any community of practice starts this baseline of self-identity. As an Asian-American, I know how labels and classification benefit and disadvantage people. As an information professional, I can share how language, localization, globalization can also be critical for bridging audiences. 

By choosing to include my Chinese name as part of my site name, I am acknowledging my cultural identity and highlighting whatever perspective it brings to my writing.

Don't deny it!