When I was born, my parents gave me a Chinese name,
One that wore like a Made in China label across my chest,
Which didn’t bother me
Until I realised the connotations ‘Made in China’ had in today’s society;
Until I realised how similar the oriental syllables of my name sounded to the ‘ching chongs’ sung mockingly on the school playground.

When people asked me where I was from, I told them,
New Zealand.
I was born and raised there,
Always making it a point to slip in my birth,
A way of compensation for this name that does not sit flush with their tongues,
As if spending anything less than 100% of my life there deems me too much of a foreigner,
Of an immigrant.

So later on, I decided to change my name to something simpler,
Something that didn’t play touch-and-go with peoples’ tongues;
Something that could be found in the dictionary.
I can’t tell you how happy it made me the day Microsoft Word finally stopped putting a red line under my name.

My mother always told me the most basic form of respect you can show someone
Is to learn how to pronounce their name, properly,
So I wonder what it says about me that I no longer speak the name I was given-
Pushed to the back of my throat, pushed off of my birth certificate,
Syllables I still can’t speak without tasting childhood racism.

It is hard to love a country
When you are reminded of racial slurs more than you are of its customs and traditions.
I am the girl who does not know how to talk about her culture without it becoming a rant about racism-
Being told to go home in a place I call home,
Disparaged about in complaints of stolen jobs and claims of rising house prices,
Like it is a crime to have fled for something better.

I want to tell them about my mother,
Who gave up leather heels
So her daughter could run barefoot on green grass;
Surrendered her voice
So her daughter could speak a new language,
Gave her a Chinese name
If for no other reason than as a souvenir
From a land she will never know well enough to call home.

So when they tell me my last name will always wear like a tail,
Following onto every form, every application,
Stamped across resumes and IDs,
The last bit of me caught in the bamboo ceiling,
Tell them this language that stumbles so hesitantly off of my tongue
Is spoken fluently by over one billion people.
I have worried so much about being marginalised
That I forget this culture I am trying to dissociate myself from
Is the one that propagated today’s 40 billion dollar tea industry,
And this country I don’t know how to appreciate
Was the one to give me the ink and paper I so cherish today.

Remind me then, before it is too late, that there is no shame in the menial jobs my parents worked to provide for a family;
Remind me it is not my place to apologise when people pronounce my name wrongly,
And please, remind me to ask my grandmother for her tea eggs recipe.

I changed my name from a Chinese one to an English one,
And now, I am praying that I have not lost my identity in the process.

72 thoughts on “Names

  1. Alexandra says:

    This is a beautiful piece of writing. A feeling I imagine is shared by people across the world. However, one doesn’t have to travel far to face this ‘problem’, my friend named her daughter Grace Aisling. Aisling is an Irish name and English people struggle with the pronunciation, and we are close neighbours! It’s said as Ashling.
    I love the end about reminding you to ask for your grandmothers recipe.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Emma Beane says:

    A beautiful piece Melody… ❀
    My birth name was always a mouthful! I changed it to my pen name in 2000… so I'm 17 still, at heart…
    I was ( marleen santmyer ) – see what I mean? πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

      • Emma Beane says:

        When I was in grade school I wished my name could be Suzie (I was envious of the talents of Suzanne Gall). When I married the man who became my son’s father, I became Marleen Beane – I detested the rhyme – and I still recall an introduction to a new student assistant on one job “That’ll be easy to remember, Marleen jellybean”. Needless to say, I never befriended her. — But I am proud of my Santmyer heritage!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Heartbeatingwings says:

        Good thing you never befriended her! I really do think people underestimate how much names mean to an individual. Appreciating someone’s name really is the most basic form of respect you can show them. You keep being you! And be proud of doing so! xx

        Liked by 1 person

  3. LunarianThoughts says:

    It is unfortunate that we fear what we do not comprehend. Your identity need not be tied to your name, for it is the collection of memories and experiences you have acquired during your life. You will find the peace of mind that you seek.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. vermismeridiem says:

    Keep that Chinese name in your private journal/diary—and practice writing it frequently, and do it for you, and all those whom you have to thank for for your such unique and precious upbringing. Doing so will pay homage to all that runs deep in your veins, that which you had no power or sovereignty to choose: all that was determined by Fate, before you were instilled with free will. I write my…Chinese/Mandarin name frequently; sometimes when I go back to visit, the customs officers will look at me in question (“is he an international spy?”) and demand me to write my name in Chinese on paper, to verify that I am not a threat. It’s quite bizarre, but I feel both proud, acknowledged, and at peace when they see that, the strokes of the pen quite accurately portrays a person of Chinese descent, albeit as obscured as it might have been rendered by the second generation immigrant experience. There is a good and complicated reason why you were assigned the often marginalized life, and I believe it has to do with bringing an awakening, a more universal acceptance and love to all of humanity. So be proud of who you are, and put the often neglected effort by those who are similar to you, to taste the hidden you—so that you may share the condensation of its best qualities to those who are in need of it—within the sometimes alienating life that you live. Because those who mockingly say “ching chong” might need it to complete what’s missing in their souls πŸ™‚ #Love your work!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Heartbeatingwings says:

      Wow, thank you for such a lovely comment. I honestly don’t think anyone has ever written me something so comprehensive before. I seriously cannot agree more with everything that you say.
      I must admit, there is something wonderful about writing the strokes of Chinese characters – it’s like drawing a picture each time (which I suppose in a way is true as that’s where Chinese characters were derived from). I actually love the way my name sounds in Mandarin, but it always comes out a bit odd when you pronounce it the ‘English’ way (with the romanisation, if you know what I mean).
      I definitely will strive to be more proud of my culture from now on, though. I did always think it was somewhat wonderful, the way I am a blend of two cultures – if only there was less discrimination! But I have to say, it has already gotten heaps better compared to when I was a child. I always wondered if by the time I had children, they would even consider racism an issue. I’d like to think not, which is absolutely incredible.
      Thank you again for your comment though! This really meant a lot to me πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Fah says:

    Such is the life of the “colonised”,
    “Saved” from native tongue & culture,
    Mastering the language of “Massa”
    Whilst slowly unfurling hidden truths found on Knowledge’s quest.
    Revel in the fact that your “dual world” has made you the person you are,
    And wonderfully so!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. mypoems says:

    Beautiful & heartfelt poem! I can definitely relate to it… My name is so hard to pronounce and always, always misspelled… I never changed it officially but I do occasionally use an English nickname (well hello Starbuck’s employees..why do you even need my name for a cup of coffee!) to make my life easier. So i can understand the urge to change it as well as the identity introspection that could cause.

    Much love,
    a.k.a. Zoe

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Gospel Isosceles says:

    I’ve changed my name too. Some people get tattoos to commemorate momentous life events, others acquire a new name. However, the racism and utter ignorance you describe having experienced by people who share your home is disheartening. I agree with your mother in that it is a sign of respect, and love I’d even say, to pronounce someone’s name right, letting it flow as easily off the tongue as if you were saying your own name. On another note, I spent four years in China and have acquired a Chinese name that I love. It is ζŸζ‘¦γ€‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Heartbeatingwings says:

      Thank you for this comment, it really means a lot to me. Racism is tough, but I’m glad there is less and less of it with each passing day. Also, thanks for sharing your story! Correct me if I’m wrong, but does your name mean birch? πŸ™‚


  8. Crosslife Spaces says:

    I admire the honesty, courage and strength displayed in this poem. I changed my name at 13 years old when I thought I would become a writer/poet. I experimented with many different pen-names and some became more known than others. I adopted names that signified the me I wanted to present in phases of my life. So I lived my adult years in names not given by my parents. One recent day I decided to use that first name as the author of a book in that language I published. When I received the book from the publisher, I marveled at the name which had been a stranger all these years. I tried to imagine the person in that name could have been. Sometimes I wonder whether by changing our names we have become someone else. What is in a name? Does a name determine a life and how a life will be lived? When I rejected a given name did my parents feel hurt? Was that name the real person? The list of questions is endless. Thank you for this poem and the thoughts that it challenges.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Heartbeatingwings says:

      Oh, thank you so much for this insightful comment! Yes, I completely agree with you. I’ve always found it amazing that a child is given a name soon after being born, and they carry it with them for the rest of their life. I like to believe the meaning of our names somewhat act as a guide as to what our parents would have liked us to be. That being said, I don’t think changing your name means you’re being disrespectful to your parents – it is ok to go by something else if you feel it is more representative of you as a person!

      Liked by 1 person

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