Opening Salvo (#23)

The First Surname Skirmish
The First Surname Skirmish

My Chinese-American boyfriend had just proposed. I threw my arms around Andy, kissed him, and marveled at the fact that I was no longer terrified.

I looked at the ring – and told Andy how beautiful it was. For a full minute. At which point he reminded me that I had not, in fact, actually answered the question “Will you marry me?”

I asked, “What about last names?”

Andy gave me a look. “Now? You want to do this now?”

I did. I’m a big planner. I’ve always liked my ducks in a row. And I liked the idea of everyone in one family having the same last name. It makes things less confusing. My ex-stepfather used to get irritated when my friends called him “Mr. Ashbough” – because that was the name of his wife’s first husband. And he hated my dad. (My dad didn’t like my ex-stepfather either. Good times.) Anyway, at one point in my shattered family’s history, there were four different names in one house and one very confused mailman. One name for one household seems practical. Cohesive.

But WHY should it automatically be the husband’s name? Because it’s traditional? Well, at different points in human history, there have been traditions of human sacrifice, slavery, disenfranchised women, and child labor. Tradition easily becomes a tool of oppression. Tradition is a LAME answer.

Female oppression aside, I’ve got practical reasons for worrying about surnames. Andy’s last name is Wong. Whenever he makes a hotel or dinner reservation in San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Honolulu, Seattle, or Los Angeles, there is ALWAYS another “Andy Wong.” You know how I found this out? Andy regularly turns off his cell phone and forgets to turn it on again. I called his hotel when he was away and not answering his phone. I asked for Andy Wong, got put through to a hotel room, and when Andy Wong answered on speaker phone, I led with, “It’s too bad you’re not here, I’m wearing that black mesh you like –”

A woman cursed, a man yelled, and I realized it WAS NOT MY ANDY. I screamed, “Wrong Wong!” and hung up in a hurry.  Andy and I laughed over it later. Hopefully the other couple did, too.

There are actually two other “Andy Wongs” at Andy’s company. One even has the same middle initial. If my Andy is not in his office and I’m trying to hunt him down, my rate of success is, at best, 33%.   Usually I get him on the first try 1 time out of 5. Sometimes I think the bored receptionist just likes to mess with me. (Cell phones are not permitted at Andy’s Top Secret Company.)

The only name I did not feel the need to change for this blog was Andy’s.   Wong is one of the most common surnames in the world. It’s also a nice target for identity theft. Just ask Andy. He’s not the A. Wong who spent $2,000 at Walmart in Seattle, or got a cash advance of $10,000 in Vegas – he’s just the one who got stuck arguing with the credit card company. Repeatedly. At one point, Chase was issuing him a new credit card nearly every month.

My real last name is lengthy and weird.  You can’t pronounce it if you read it first, and I guarantee you can’t spell it correctly if you hear it aloud first. Number of attempts at identity theft? ZERO.  At first I wondered why Andy was a target and I wasn’t. I was kind of offended. Was my credit rating bad? Was that why no one even tried to steal my credit card numbers? I investigated and discovered that my credit rating is almost perfect. Way better than Andy’s. Clearly, an unspellable and unpronounceable last name is a great asset. If we were getting married, Andy should share in this asset. (Am I not generous with my assets?)

There’s no reason why, with a perfectly good, identity-theft-less last name like mine, that I should become a Wong. Andy should, instead, become an Ashbough.

I explained my excellent rationale to Andy.

Andy looked at me like I was nuts. “So you aren’t going to marry me unless I change my last name?”

“No. It’s not a condition.   I was just wondering what we were going to do about names.”

“And I’m wondering if you’re ever going to put on this ring and answer my question.”

I laughed, and held out my hand. Andy slid the ring on my finger. The ring was old-fashioned, with filigree, but cast in platinum. The diamond was clearly more than 1 carat. “How did you manage to buy this with your credit rating?”

“I paid cash. Now, are you ever going to officially answer my question?”

“What question?” I turned my ring into the light and admired the sparkle. “You know, maybe we could both hyphenate our names…”

Andy said, “I’ll think about it.” He cleared his throat pointedly. “Will. You. Marry. Me.”

I smiled, looked deep into those dark chocolate eyes, and answered, “I would never want to marry anyone but you…

…Mr. Ashbough-Wong.”

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Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

12 thoughts on “Opening Salvo (#23)”

  1. I have been married before and I wished I would have stayed with my maiden name through it all. I am now remarried but still using my ex’s last name because I have a “business brand” with it. Boogers!

  2. We don’t change surnames in Spain when we get married! And we have two surnames, one from dad and one from mom. Traditionally the father’s name is put in the first place, so it will be the one passed down to your offspring. But since some years ago you can choose if you baby will have the mother’s surname first.

    In China married women don’t change their surname either, but only the father’s surname is given to the baby.

  3. I think I will go the traditional way and put the father’s surname first and then mine second. Even though my boyfriend’s surname is hard to pronounce for Spaniards!

  4. My husband’s name was at least as common as Wong. He always used a double middle initial for his Chinese name, so that helped. Before I published a book and started a blog, when I googled my name (either Nicki or Nicole Chen), I saw how many beautiful Chinese girls have the same name. There’s a famous Singaporean DJ named Nicole Chen. Also my dentist has another patient with my name. But, at least on line, Nicki Chen is now mine.

  5. Girl I love this blog (even if I’m a few months behind). I hear you on the name thing. I want to keep my name, I love the obvious French tone and spelling (which no one can actually pronounce). But here is my dilemma, I’m the last born in my family with my name and my much much older brothers never had children. This family name will die with me. Michael’s mom hit the Chinese baby lottery and had three boys. So I argue with him all the time that rationally he should take my name even though he’s first born. My arguments fall on deaf ears. He wants me to hiephenate my name though because he loves my name, but then it will be pretty long.
    I also would take Wong over Quach. Pronounced like Kwok. Nobody says it right and it looks like quack.
    Oh and is your name really Autumn?

    1. Don’t worry, everyone is behind, and it will undoubtedly be ages before I catch up to real time!

      Thanks so much for saying how much you love this, even though your experience is different. I’m kind of jealous that the parents don’t talk to you…well, except for thinking you’re pregnant just because you aren’t a stick. That sounds like something Jay would say.

      Kwok, oh, wow, yes, that would be worth a battle. If you have kids, fight for Guimond!

      I’ll have to hurry up and get to the whole name surname fiasco for you. It is not pretty.

      I wish my real name were Autumn. I picked it as a pseudonym because it’s pretty (though I like your more exotic spelling better) and because it is my favorite season. I miss the fall here in LA. My family in NH sends me leaves and maple sugar, but it’s not quite the same.

  6. Ohhh, the name choosing. I think we have the same policy– from a juridical standpoint, with names. I mean, there are a bunch of choices for people to pick. Hypenate them, choosing just one of them, or– even keeping different names and hypenating them for kids, if I remember correctly. o3o

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