Lost in Translations (#233)

I find names and the naming process fascinating. Giving someone a nickname is often a way of expressing affection—or dislike. My parents divorced and remarried so much that we sometimes had as many as three different surnames in our households, but God help the poor classmate who referred to my stepfather as “Mr. Ashbough,” (the name of my mother’s ex-husband).

God also help whichever sibling my father hollered at using their full name—middle name included.

When my husband and I married, we put a lot of thought into hyphenating both our names. Andy’s Chinese-American parents objected. Their arguments were illogical, hypocritical, and downright ludicrous, but I was forced to concede.

Years later, I was still pissed. When I got pregnant, I was ready for the second round. Our kid would have the surname I we chose: Ashbough-Wong. No, Wong was NOT coming first, because the name Wong-Ashbough doesn’t sound right.

This time, I held all the cards because the mother gets all the say on the birth certificate.

So of course Andy’s parents didn’t make a single objection.

They stayed meekly and uncharacteristically quiet on the subject of the Number One Son’s future son.

This was despite the fact that in Andy’s family,  it was traditional to give their children an English first name and a Cantonese middle name. Andy’s aunts, uncles, and grandparents always referred to Andy and his siblings by their Cantonese names. As Andy neglected to explain this to me, it took me about a year to figure out who his family was gossiping about, even when they spoke in English.

Since my in-laws were behaving reasonably and I’m a sucker for tradition, I magnanimously told Andy that his folks could pick a middle name for Baby D.

Then Andy’s cousins came to our baby shower. Engineer Cousin asked about Baby D’s Chinese name.

“Don’t have it yet,” I told her cheerfully. “Jay and Sunny are working on it.”

“You’re letting them? Are you crazy? If I could do it again, I would never let anyone else have a say,” she ranted. She told me she’d insisted on giving her daughter her first name, but let her husband pick the middle name. Like me, her husband was Quite White, but wanted to give his child a Cantonese middle name. So he dutifully studied and opted for “Mei,” which means “pretty.”

“But…what’s wrong with that?” I asked.

Engineer Cousin snorted contemptuously. “He didn’t even pick the right kind of ‘pretty.’ It’s a plain, insipid word for pretty! And then he insisted he liked it and refused to change it!”

“Oh. But, um, surely Sunny wouldn’t make a mistake like that. She’s a native speaker.”

“You never know,” Engineer Cousin muttered darkly, and took a hearty slug of the wine she’d brought.

That night, I insisted that my husband call his sister. She was pregnant with her second child, and due ahead of me. “Ask her what middle name your parents are giving her son.”

“But I’m so tired,” Andy whined. “I’ll do it tomorrow.”

I shoved a phone in his hand. “This is an important test case.”

Andy reluctantly called his sister.

He discovered that his father had indeed picked a name for our nephew, one that meant something along the lines of “country.” Jay was very proud of his choice.

In English, the name sounds like “Gawk.”

I immediately flashed back to my History of the Vietnam War class. “Oh, no! What if he names our son ‘Gook?!’”

“I’m sure it won’t be that bad, honey,” Andy said—without meeting my eyes.

I shoved the phone in his face yet again. “You call your parents right now and tell them that, that, I need a list! Yes! A list. They give me three names and I will pick one of the three.”

“Are you sure about this?”

“Yes. No! Make it five names!”

Thankfully, Jay had not yet settled on his favorite name. I got a list of 4 choices. Some sounded better than others, but all were better than my future nephew’s name. (Not telling you what the sketchy ones were, lest I offend someone. Or possibly I forgot.)

We chose “Kuang,” which means “shining,” or “shiny.” It also went the best with the rest of Baby D’s name.

As soon as I picked it, though, I chuckled.

“Now what?” asked my long-suffering husband.

“In my house, when you were in trouble—like seriously doomed—you knew it because my father used your whole name,” I explained. “He’d yell, ‘Autumn Allison Ashbough! Downstairs! This instant!’ And that’s when you wondered whether it’d be less painful to jump out the window.”

“Okay…”

“But that’s not gonna work on our kid. I’m gonna be furious because he put an orange down the toilet or something, but the minute I yell, ‘Dalton Kuang Ashbough-Wong’ I’m gonna start giggling because it rhymes. So I won’t be able to use his middle name to intimidate him or convey the seriousness of the situation. I’ve lost the most important function of the middle name!”

“I thought the most important function of the middle name was to distinguish you for other people with the same first and last names,” argued my husband (who works at a company with TWO other Andy Wongs).

“Oh, honey,” I said. “I promise you, our son is going to be the only Dalton Ashbough-Wong on the entire planet. Ever.”

He’s gonna hate me when he has to start writing his name on school papers, though.

Want more info on Chinese names? Check out Marta Lives in China’s brand new post!

Andy’s Guide to Gift-Giving (and Marriage) #245

Once upon a time, my future husband gave me thoughtful, expensive presents. On one of our early dates, we rode an elephant together (before we knew better, sorry, wildlife defenders everywhere). Elephants had been my favorite animal as a child, in part because “elephants never forget.” Not being forgotten is the childhood fantasy of every middle child in an enormous family who has been left at school, ballet, or the Trailways bus station.

Andy didn’t forget why I loved elephants or our date. Andy got me a gold and emerald elephant pendant for Christmas that year.

Andy learned I liked old-fashioned, unique jewelry. He found an Edwardian ring design and worked with a jeweler to have it modified and cast in platinum for an engagement ring. 

I said yes. Eventually

Continue reading Andy’s Guide to Gift-Giving (and Marriage) #245

Houseguest vs. Hostess (#240)

A woman’s home is her castle. Until her father-in-law shows up.

I’m white woman raised by a former debutante. My racist Southern grandma ran a charm school. As liberated as my mother tried to be, she was still stuck on Rules of Acceptable Female Behavior.

One such rule was “Be an Exemplary Hostess.” When friends came over, they got first pick of snacks, toys, and sleeping bags. They chose the games we played.

When my parents entertained, we children took coats. We handed around hors d’ oeuvres. We got adults drinks. If there was a shortage of chairs, we offered our seats to adults and took the floor. We cleared the table and did the dishes, too. My mother took immense pride in the praise guests heaped upon her for her adorable little helpers.

She shared their praise with us. And since we were many, and desperate for attention, we got a little warped.

Continue reading Houseguest vs. Hostess (#240)

Sex, Sorrow, and Costco (#239)

I was raised by a liberated woman and a man who believed his daughters should mow lawns, change tires, and have the same curfew as their older brother.

My sisters and I crushed in academics no less than my brother. We were better singers, better dancers, and better athletes. Also more popular. (Sorry, Big Bro!)

NASA came to my schools seeking women astronauts. They told us women had better reflexes than men, handled G-forces better than men, and coped better in close quarters better than men and please could we girls consider being astronauts?

I never understood why a person should be more valued because they were born with a penis. I mean, having a penis means you’re kind of fragile and likely to die earlier than a woman.

Continue reading Sex, Sorrow, and Costco (#239)

West Versus East: The Birthday Edition (#219)

In my childhood house of a thousand siblings, there was only one day more exciting than Christmas.

My birthday.

On my birthday, I got to sit at the head of the breakfast table and preside over a plate of powdered doughnuts with candles. Powdered doughnuts might not seem very exciting compared to the Krispy Kremes and Voodoo doughnut delicacies of today, but back then they were a huge treat. Especially to a kid in a big family on a budget. Continue reading West Versus East: The Birthday Edition (#219)

Year of the Dawg (#212)

It’s Chinese New Year, and it’s also my third blogoversary! I bet y’all think I’m gonna do an uplifting or informational post about the Year of the Dog today, right?

Nope. Today I’m gonna talk about just how much a new mattress can improve your life. Continue reading Year of the Dawg (#212)

But Can You Do the Math? (#184)

My older sister never lets any of her siblings forget that she succeeded at the most prestigious – and most difficult – profession in America.

She’s a doctor.

In college, I told her I was going for three majors in three years and summa cum laude. She responded with, “Well, of course you can do that with liberal arts.” Continue reading But Can You Do the Math? (#184)

Stocking Savior (#164)

My family collects college degrees. We have some BAs, a lot of BS, an MD, a JD, an MBA, a MSW, an MFA, and a Masters of Education. Big Brother added second MBA when he married. Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister married a second lawyer. I brought the most, though, when I added Andy — a Masters of Engineering AND a Masters in Cyber Security (so, HA, you Russian hackers, give up attacking my website already).

I think the only degree we missed was a PhD. Bummer. Continue reading Stocking Savior (#164)

When Your Asian Guy Won’t Fight For You (#157)

This spur-of-the-moment midnight post might not be for everyone. But a fellow Western Woman involved with an Asian Male is heartsick now. Maybe there are a few other women out there running into this same cultural clash.

Maybe I can help. So here I am, riding in on my white horse, with this post about one of the biggest struggles I face with my Chinese-American guy. Not every white woman’s experience will mirror mine, and not every guy with Chinese parents will turn out like Andy. But some of you might see just enough of the same dynamic to find our story helpful.

*****

In my white, American family, dissent was acceptable. Continue reading When Your Asian Guy Won’t Fight For You (#157)

Poker Face (#155)

If I had known that buying a new house would inspire inspired a visit from Andy’s parents, I’d have barricaded myself into our old townhouse for life. I knew that we wouldn’t be able to keep them away if we ever had a son (hence my ongoing lobbying to adopt a little girl from China), but I had no idea a new house would be such a draw. Given my father-in-law’s obsession with photos of the house, I should have known what would happen.

As soon as Andy and I finished our year-long, DIY remodel of our new house,  my Chinese-American in-laws decided they needed to make sure we’d done it right. Jay and Sunny informed Andy that they were coming to visit in April.

I was not consulted. Continue reading Poker Face (#155)