Minna Hong is a freelance editor/copywriter by night, and political blogger/fiction writer by later night. She blogs about race issues, women’s issues, queer issues, and whatever else is on her mind for her Angry Black Overlady at angryblackladychronicles.com under the ‘nym asiangrrlMN (now Minna Hong (asiangrrlMN)). She also contributes to the mayhem at Dead Shuffle, where she is responsible for the Minneapolis Zombiepocalypse. She’s working on her fiction website, which she hopes to do more with in the very near future. In her spare time, she is learning the Sword Form in tai chi, cuddling with her two black cats, and tweeting merrily during #AfterDarkTwitters as @asiangrrlMN.
My name is Minna, as in Minnesota, for which I was named, if you are American. My name is Mee-NA, if you are Taiwanese or Chinese, which is my Taiwanese name and what my parents call me. My name is MEE-na, if you are any other kind of Asian – it seems to be how my name would be pronounced in other Asian languages, including Southeast and South Asian tongues. My name is NOT Myna or Nina or Ninna or Minnow or a dozen other things I’ve been called.
If I don’t care about a person or the meeting is incidental, such as on the phone with a customer services rep, I will let that person call me whatever he wants. He doesn’t matter to me, so what he calls me doesn’t matter, either. If, however, a person with whom I’m going to have an ongoing relationship mispronounces my name, I will correct her and give her my ‘Minna as in Minnesota’ spiel. If she gets my name wrong after that, I mentally give her the side eye and think less of her. Yes, my name isn’t the easiest in the world to pronounce, but it’s not that difficult, either. Someone repeatedly getting it wrong shows me that the person doing the mispronouncing is either lazy or not interested in really getting to know me, so fuck that person, anyway.
I hated my name when I was a child, because it got mispronounced so often and because I got teased about it relentlessly. Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnetonka, Minnehaha (living in Minnesota, we have a lot of places with names that begin with Minne-), and my personal favorite because I was a chubby kid, Minnesota Fats. I tried to go by Eliza – a diminutive of my middle name – but no one would call me that. Even on the rare occasion that someone would call me Eliza, I didn’t respond; I forgot that was supposed to be me. It didn’t really fit me, but I didn’t want to be called Beth or Betsy or Liz either, because they were too common. Even as a child I knew I was different, and that no ordinary name would do.
I reluctantly went back to Minna (really, the experiment lasted maybe a week), and when I hit St. Olaf College with all its Kirstie, Christie, Kirstin, Christine, Kristen variations, I became intensely glad that my name was distinctive and helped me stand out from the crowd. Well, being Taiwanese American in a mostly-white college was more than enough to help me stand out, but having an unusual name was an added bonus. From then on, I not only grew comfortable with my name, I embraced it. My name was like me – quirky, odd, and hard to get to know. I had grown into my name, and it suited me. Trust, however, that had I found a better name along the way, I would have snapped it up in a heartbeat, and to hell with anyone who judged me for doing so.
Fast-forward to the latest lament over women changing their names upon marriage. This is a pretty standard old-school feminist stance, and as critics have pointed out, narrow, privileged, and Eurocentric. Here’s the odd thing – I agree with many of the basic premises –there still is an expectation in society that a woman will take her husband’s last name, that even though the choice is individual, there are societal pressures that influence said choice, and it’s still considered ridiculous for a man to take a woman’s last name. All of these are reminders of sexist attitudes that still exist – and yet, the argument often leaves me cold.
One illustration of why: when I first became a feminist twenty years ago, I had an old-school feminist (wearing bright pink lipstick, mind you) ask, “What’s a feminist like you doing wearing a miniskirt?” I said to her, “I got out of the patriarchy because it was always telling me what to do. I’ll be damned if I let anyone else do it, either.” I told her that automatically rejecting everything the patriarchy demanded was allowing the patriarchy to control you just as much as if you did everything it ordered. As long as you were simply reacting, you were still granting the patriarchy all the power. Part of feminism, to me, was the freedom to choose for myself after carefully thinking out the issue, and I wasn’t going to cede that power to ANYONE, ever again. Besides, damn it, I had good legs, and I wasn’t above showing them off.
But I digress, as is my wont. Back to the argument about name changing. Feminists who criticize this practice often do so in a way that’s purely academic, not taking into account real-world feelings. Or, when they do, they dismiss people’s reasons as insufficient and assert why their ideas are better. There are no reasons good enough, in this frame, for a woman to change her name upon marrying. What this tells me is that people making such arguments aren’t interested in a discussion – only in pontificating.
The older I get, the less interested I am in epistemological closure, especially from a group which is supposed to be about inclusion for women from varying backgrounds, thoughts, and beliefs. It’s beyond tiresome to have to remind prominent middle-class white feminists that their definition of feminism is not sacrosanct. The fact that they write with complete confidence in their own narrow viewpoint is a reminder of how oftentimes the proclamations of Feminism with a capital F feel as condescending as do the societal norms said Feminism prides itself on dismantling.
Finally, I’m not married. I have no intention of ever marrying. I made the decision many years ago because I’m bisexual, and at that time, marriage equality was but a dream. My decision was political – if I couldn’t marry the woman I loved, then I wouldn’t marry the man I loved – but it morphed into a more personal decision over time.
As things stand now, I don’t see marriage as a palatable option for me (an essay for another time). So the discussion surrounding whether a woman changes her name or not upon marrying is simply not of interest to me. I’m not saying that an issue has to be personal in order for it to have meaning to me, but this stale framing of it has to be radically updated in order for it to have relevance. I am thankful for one thing that stemmed from this, however: it’s started an exciting, thought-provoking conversation among a diverse group of women as to the power of naming, and that conversation is one well-worth having.
Let’s Talk About Names: Trudy is the previous post in the series.
Let’s Talk About Names: Marna is the next post in the series.