It should be the end of this blog, right? I mean, West met East, fell in love, got engaged, and got married, and lived happily ever after. End of story.
In fact, the battles had only just begun.
The war began at the wedding. When the ceremony finished, Andy and I turned to face the guests. The minister announced: “I now present Mr. and Mrs. Ashbough-Wong.”
With the exception of two people, everyone cheered and applauded.
When Andy and I entered the reception hall after the interminable picture-taking, Big Brother had the microphone. He introduced the best man and maid of honor, and then said, “And now, Mr. and Mrs. Ashbough-Wong!”
More cheers and applause. Except for those same two people.
My brand new mother-in-law and my brand new father-in-law.
Cuz they were pissed.
Back when Andy proposed, I made it clear that I would not be taking the surname Wong. Seriously, the name was already over 20 million strong. And however much I might like to see people’s faces when they first met the Caucasian giantess named “Autumn Wong,” I was also a feminist. I objected to the automatic assumption that a woman should take her husband’s name. If she wanted to, fine. If not, fine. If a couple wanted to hyphenate, make up a new name, or call themselves Foxy Lords of Zeta Centauri Bisquick, also fine. (And though their offspring would curse them, said offspring would also learn the alphabet faster than its peers.)
Andy was fine with me not taking his last name.
He was not fine with taking my last name. Which I thought was an opportunity wasted.
“C’mon,” I urged him. “Think of the fun you could have in job interviews! Andy Ashbough shows up, and bam! It’s totally not who they pictured and they have to re-examine their own prejudices! Meanwhile, you wow them and get the job, both on merit and cuz they don’t want to look racist!”
“And what do I tell them when they ask how a Chinese guy wound up with the last name of ‘Ashbough?’” Andy asked.
“No one would ever ask. They’ll assume you’re adopted and it’d be rude. But if they do, tell ‘em it’s Mongolian.” I cackled.*
Andy shook his head and gave me his best “pity the clueless white girl” look.
“It would solve the identity theft problem,” I reminded him.
Another head shake. I nagged at Andy until he reluctantly agreed that we could both hyphenate our names. He wasn’t super excited about it, but I didn’t care. I loved the idea that we would both have the same name and it wasn’t going to just be the man’s.
Ha! Take that, Patriarchy!
I should have known better. Andy stupidly told his parents about our plan the day before the wedding. They threw a fit, and I spent the rehearsal dinner and the wedding making sure they never spoke to me alone. With a massive immediate family like mine, my avoidance was successful. (Ha, whaddaya know, there are now a total of FOUR benefits to having seven siblings, multiple parental units, and a half-dozen step/ex-step siblings!)
But I couldn’t avoid my in-laws forever.
When we returned from our honeymoon, there were three messages from Andy’s mom, Sunny. There were two messages from his father Jay. There was a message from his sister. And there was one from his brother, too: “Listen, bro. Please call Ma. I don’t care what you call yourself, but I’m tired of them calling me.”
Telemarketers have nothing on my in-laws.
After Andy’s aunts started calling, he finally gave in and called his parents back.
There was saber-rattling first: Sunny told him he wasn’t allowed to hyphenate his name.
Andy said nothing
Warning shots were fired. Jay threatened to disown Andy if he hyphenated his name.
Andy refused to engage.
Sunny peppered his position with mortars. She berated Andy, telling him that in China, only slaves changed their names. Slaves took the surnames of their masters.
Instead of telling his mother in graphic detail about how he was already my LOVE slave, Andy repeatedly changed the subject. Enemy fire continued until he invented a work emergency and got off the phone.
When I heard about the ammunition used, I was incensed. “That is some sexist BULLSHIT! Both of your female cousins took on the ENGLISH surnames of THEIR husbands and no one in your family said a word! But now, you do it, and it’s conveniently now a cultural issue!”
Andy’s sister soon waded in with some half-assed diplomacy. She said, “I know it’s none of my business and you can do whatever you want, but…please, please, please don’t change your name!”
Andy countered with distraction, asking about his niece.
I wanted Andy to tell his family off, but that’s not how he rolls. Andy’s mentality is siege-survivalist. He ignores the cannonballs and arrows. He refuses to counterattack. Andy waits for the besiegers to grow bored, or assume everyone in the town has been starved into submission and declare victory. When the attacking army gets distracted or marches off, Andy opens the gates and does whatever he wanted to do in the first place.
So I figured we just had to wait for Andy’s Hong Kong cousin to get a girl pregnant (preferably with twins), or for one of the uncles to commit adultery, or for his closeted gay cousin to finally come out. Then our little hyphen would be forgotten and the parental siege would end. Andy didn’t actually care if his father disowned him. He didn’t need money from his parents. He had a house of his own, three thousand miles away from them. And Andy and his father were never what you’d call close.
I was sure the Ashbough-Wongs would weather the siege.
I forgot about Popo.
I was away when that bombshell hit. I mean, when Andy’s beloved Grandmother called. (Or perhaps when Sunny insisted on holding the phone up to Popo’s ear and feeding her lines.) I came home to a suspiciously dark house.
I found Andy on the couch, holding the phone and wiping tears out of his eyes. Andy is not a crier. I rushed over.
“What happened? Who’s dead?”
“My grandma’s mad at me!” Andy howled, heartbroken.
Of course. Andy adored his grandmother. Popo taught him how to write his name in Chinese characters. She offered him all the hugs and kisses he never got from his emotionally distant father and his working mother. He even lived with her for a while after his younger brother was born. She’d never said a mean word to him in her life. Until now.
And with that, I knew that the Battle of the Surname was lost.
Yeah, I could have thrown a fit and insisted that Andy keep his side of the bargain. I could have pointed out the idiocy of both his mother and his grandmother caring about a common patrilineal SURNAME THAT WASN’T EVEN THEIRS continuing. I could have badgered, bullied, or sex-bribed Andy into filling out the paperwork to be an Ashbough-Wong. But that would make me no better than Andy’s controlling parents.
In fact, I began to wonder if I hadn’t already been something of a bully, relentlessly pushing at Andy to take my name. It’s not like the man was turning cartwheels over the idea.
I wasn’t going to drive a rift between Andy and his grandmother. Even though it galled me. Even though I thought Sunny had cheated at a game she wasn’t even supposed to be playing.
I handed Andy a white tissue of surrender. “Here you go, Mr. Wong.”
We never spoke of hyphenating our names again. Andy remained the target of identity thieves. I remained Ms. Ashbough. We undoubtedly avoided weeks of paperwork.
Someday, I am sure I won’t be angry anymore. Perhaps when I sign a birth certificate for a Baby Ashbough-Wong.
Because if that war comes, I’m gonna win.
*Mongolians had last names, then the communists took them away, and then in 1997 the government insisted on the return of surnames once more. Mongolian families could pick their names. Most of them picked Borjigin, the family name of Genghis Khan. But there’s a variety of names, many of which do not sound remotely Chinese. (At least, not to white people like me.)