Not By Any Other Name (#227)

When I married my Chinese-American husband, we planned on hyphenating our names. Andy’s parents objected.

A multi-month battle ensued. In the end, Andy kept his name. I kept mine.

This means I lost. I don’t lose gracefully.

I lose grudgefully. I swore that if we ever had a kid, said kid would definitely be an Ashbough-Wong.

Years later, I was pregnant and the issue of names reared its ugly head once again.  We’d settled on a first name – sort of.  The fetus was making me throw up so much, I had taken to giving it less flattering nicknames. Andy found them amusing.

“’Demon Spawn Wong’ has a certain something,” he agreed. “It kind of rhymes.”

“Demon Spawn Ashbough-Wong,” I corrected him.

“Right. Can’t wait to tell my parents that,” he muttered.

“Me, either,” I said, with obvious relish.

Andy asked, “So…what if we don’t tell them? They aren’t gonna see the birth certificate. We can just let them assume.”

“And when they send the kid a check in the wrong name?”

“They always give cash.”

“And are you planning on sending out a special birth announcement just to your relatives, with a fraudulent last name, perhaps?”


“Didn’t quite think that one through, did you, Moriarty?”

Andy sighed. “I just don’t want a fight.”

“Hey, I don’t want to fight, either.”

“Honey, if you had a sword, you’d be sharpening it right now.”

“Yes, but not because I want to fight. Because I want to WIN. And for once, this is a fight I will win. No matter what your parents say or do.”

Andy looked doubtful. “Have you not met my dad?”

“Doesn’t matter. They can scream all they want, but you know who puts the name on the kid’s birth certificate, right?”

Andy’s not a planner. He shook his head.

“The mother!” I announced. “And I’m the mom, I put down the name, I win, they lose, GOOD DAY TO YOUR PARENTS AND THE PATRIARCHY!”

Andy winced.

I did my best evil laugh and said, “But maybe I won’t hyphenate Baby D’s name after all. Maybe I’ll just forget to add Wong completely. Pregnancy brain, you know?”

Andy wisely said nothing.


Weeks later, Andy’s parents finally caught Andy on the phone.

Unfortunately, I was still puking – despite finally being out of the dreaded first trimester. From the bathroom, I only heard the beginning of Andy’s side of the phone conversation:

“Oh, yeah, Autumn’s still throwing up – no, don’t worry, the baby is fine…no, we won’t know if it’s a boy or girl for another month or so… Because that’s when they do the ultrasound, Dad – no, we can’t get it earlier… ah, well, we haven’t actually decided for sure on a name until we know the sex of the baby…  Really? Autumn said that? When did she say that? Huh. Well, she’s pretty adamant about Ashbough-Wong being the last name, but she didn’t say—”

I wanted to snatch the phone out of Andy’s hands right then, but my stomach had other ideas. Ugly ideas. It was another 20 minutes before I could interrogate Andy about the phone call.

“WHAT did your father say I said?”

“He said you told him he could pick out a Chinese name—”

“I never said that!” I shrieked. “I said he could pick out a Cantonese MIDDLE NAME! Oh my fucking God where is the phone let me at him!”

Andy hastily grabbed the handset and backed away. “You didn’t let me finish! That’s what he said. That he and my mom and Popo are thinking of Chinese names. For the middle name. But it depends on whether it’s a boy or a girl.”

That stopped me cold. “Really? You’re sure they know it’s the middle name?”


“And they’re okay with Baby D’s last name being Ashbough-Wong?”


“They didn’t argue at all?”


“Are you lying to me? Is this a case of, ‘don’t upset the pregnant woman, because she’s super hormonal and not stable?’”


“Because I’ll find out and then I’ll be twice as psycho because you lied.”

“You think I don’t know that?”

“Huh.” I flopped on the couch, deflated. “All the fuss over you changing your name and they just don’t care about their grandchild’s name? That doesn’t make any sense. Popo flipped out over you changing your name, and you’re her grandchild.”

Andy shrugged. “Who cares, honey? You win. Baby Ashbough-Wong it is.”

“It doesn’t feel like a win. It feels like a forfeit. Not very satisfying at all.”

Andy patted me on the shoulder and said, “Just take the win, honey. Take the win.”

After years of planning my campaign, the easy victory left me thoroughly disgruntled.

And wondering if that’s what my in-laws intended.


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Autumn Ashbough

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

20 thoughts on “Not By Any Other Name (#227)”

  1. My son’s middle name is Cantonese, as well as his last name, although my parents want to give him our last name and hyphenated it. Am thinking it might be a good idea due to racism and everything Asian men experience in USA…his first name is culled from an Ashkenazi Jewish tradition, using first letter of a dead relatives name and passing it down to next generation.

    1. That’s a nice Jewish tradition. Which relative did you honor?

      I joked with my husband that our kid should just be “Ashbough,” just to help their chances of getting into college as a half-Asian kid in Los Angeles county. The racism didn’t really occur to me, probably because the area where we live is pretty diverse and any racism has been too subtle for me to notice…so far.

      1. My grandfather on my dad’s side. Lol reason I mention it is that I think there is a taboo in Asian culture about honoring dead relatives the way Jews do, naming living after dead.

        I hadn’t experienced racism either, but often heard about it or read about it frequently. In order to be accepted into a university, Asian men have to have perfect scores in everything, and with last name, people might assume he doesn’t know English and stuff…

  2. My parents just gave me two names, a French one (which is on my passport and my birth certificate, because that’s my nationality) and that I use in the Western world, and a Chinese one that is on my Chinese residence & work permit (aside my French name, because they still want the one that appears on the passport but also ask for a Chinese name) and at work, and basically everywhere in China.

    When I meet someone new, I just let them pick the one they prefer and are the most comfortable using.

    There never really was a debate on the subject, and it isn’t an issue for me either. What appears on the passport is not that important, but what I use and what people call me is. For us, those two don’t really have to be correlated (and I actually know a lot of people here for whom the name they use and the one that appears on their ID is not the same…)

    1. Yes, in a lot of other cultures people go by multiple names with ease. (Take Russia. Russian literature is maddening to read as a an American, with all the nicknames!) And in my husband’s family, his aunts all call him by his Chinese/ middle name. Which was very confusing to me for a while.

      Americans seem to be more wedded to their birth names, and the people who don’t like their birth names will actually change their name legally, even though it’s a hassle.

  3. Just don’t tell them what you are going to do beforehand, do it and later they can deal with it if they are not happy xD Like when when I was a teenager and I dyed my hair red and had a tattoo done without telling my mum first. Once it’s done, they cannot do anything! 😀

    1. Well, you would have thought that. And we tried that, after we were married, just telling them that we were going to be the Ashbough-Wongs. And they threw such a fit we gave up. Andy couldn’t handle his grandmother being mad at him. 😉 But in this case I guess it would have worked?

  4. My father-in-law put a lot of effort into choosing his grandchildren’s Chinese names. He did it the old-fashioned way with all of them having the same generation name. He has twelve grandchildren. All of them have two English names. For example, my oldest is Christine Marie. And they they all have a double Chinese name for when they’re speaking Chinese. Christine’s name is Shu-Ke. Teresa is Shu-Li, and Rose is Shu-Ro. Their cousin’s names also start with Shu.

    I never thought of using a hyphenated last name. But then, that was way back in the Sixties. Cromarty-Chen might have been nice.

    1. I did not know about the generational names! I shall have to investigate further. Andy and his brother have similar sounding Chinese names — maybe this is why.

      Cromarty-Chen would have been an excellent hyphenate!

  5. Sorry I’m late with the comment! You know, I’ve also lost sleep about this–I want my future baby to have my last name (even if it is hyphenated!!), but I know my husband and in-laws would flip their shit. Did your in-laws really go with it? I feel like Andy is hiding something….

    Well if it makes you feel better, the nice thing about Chinese names is that the kid will most definitely use their Chinese name in China/Hong Kong/Singapore/mostAsianCities. In beginner’s Mandarin class the teacher all gave us Chinese names or let people choose a name themselves. Most (coughwhitecough) students chose a name like DANCING CRANE IN WIND DRAGON FIST… and I face palmed myself. I let the teacher choose my name and she basically gave me “sally jane” as a name, and when I went to China all the locals teased me for having the most vanilla name ever. I finally made my own name in Shanghai, but man, would have been A LOT BETTER if I already had a carefully selected Chinese name to begin with.

    But yeah. Hope your in-laws didn’t make your kid ‘crouching-tiger-dragon-fist-uppercut’ or something, haha.

    1. I am not alone! Glad to know someone else stays up at night agonizing over over the hyphen.

      Ultimately, the mom gets the birth certificate, the mom has the final say in the name. And if this is the only grandchild, I promise your in-laws will not cut off contact. Well, not unless they have a martyr complex. The hyphen is the way to go, and it will give your kid an unusual, unique name. 🙂 As a negotiating tactic, though, I’d recommend making the surname part of prenatal negotiations with your partner (along with: you WILL change diapers, you WILL NOT spend weekends watching football/ soccer/ rugby/ Netflix, you will cook dinners, your parents ARE NOT allowed in the delivery room, we ARE getting a nanny if I want to keep working, if I decide it’s best for me to stay home with the kid, no arguments, etc.) And if you don’t agree or can’t compromise on how a kid should be raised, maybe you’re better off not stressing a relationship with a baby.

      It’s also nice to have the moral high ground if someone tries to change the deal later. Women tend to be more accommodating to the needs to others, and men will unconsciously — or even deliberately — take advantage, and then we (or at least I) get resentful.

  6. I’m so glad I found your blog a few days ago and now I’m all caught up! Looking forward to the future blogs.

    1. Thanks, Woosh — so named because you “whooshed” through my posts? Compliments keep me going. Vlogs are so popular now it’s nice to see I can still reach readers. 🙂

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