Celebrating how my name connects me to my heritage during AAPI Heritage Month
- Posted on May 2, 2023
- Estimated reading time 3 minutes
To my friends and family, I’m known as Tingting. But for all legal intents and purposes, I’m Isabella. I am a Chinese adoptee, a product of China’s One Child policy era. Many adoptees are given “American” names to help better assimilate to American society. When my mom adopted me at age four, she gave me the name “Isabella,” but she also gave me a choice. I spent my first year in America known as “Isabella Tingting” until I made my choice. However, despite choosing to forgo my American name and remain “Tingting,” I was mostly detached from any other ties to my heritage. Until high school, I had only really identified with the American part of Asian American. It was only from experiencing occasional microaggressions that I would be reminded that I was Asian, too.
Since there were essentially no Asian people in my day-to-day life – let alone Chinese people – questions like, “How’d you get that nickname?” were common. When another Asian student started at my school, people assumed or asked if we were related. Being a minority can be difficult at an early age when you want to fit in, and as a Chinese adoptee I didn’t quite fit in with other Asian Americans, either. I was often referred to as a “banana,” a term for people who are “yellow on the outside and white on the inside.”
Luckily, those comments grew less frequent and less impactful as I got older, and when I got to high school, I was exposed to a more diverse and accepting student body. I met my best friend, a Vietnamese American, who helped me embrace Asian culture and encouraged me to explore my Chinese heritage. I went on to study Mandarin Chinese in college for my language credit, and enjoyed my time so much that I minored in Chinese Language.
As I grew older, I also realized that my choice to go by a Chinese name is not as much of a choice for others. My name is fairly easy to pronounce in English, but that is not always the case. Not all Asian Americans feel they can go by their preferred name or feel that it is not in their best interest. In more recent years, I have come across people who assume I am an international student or that I am not fluent in English because of my name. Sometimes I ended up going by Isabella because Tingting was “too hard to pronounce” or because Isabella was “just easier to remember.” Still, some part of me feels like keeping my Chinese birth name helped me stay in touch with my heritage; no matter how far I pushed it away, I always had the freedom and choice to find my way back to it at my own pace.
I am grateful to my mom for having given me a say in my identity at an early age and to now have a sense of belonging an Asian American while still maintaining my own unique experiences. I’m also grateful to have found an organization that allows me to reflect on those experiences, respects my preferences and does not treat my preferred name as a suggestion. Avanade uses “Tingting” in my official identification, email address, and just about anywhere that other companies would have forcibly filled in as Isabella.
I am thankful for the cultural events and holidays that give us opportunities to celebrate what we cherish the most. In fact, in the spirit of AAPI Heritage Month, I’ll be returning to my hometown to celebrate my graduation from graduate school! When I return, I will celebrate with my family and friends. We will eat plenty of delicious food. We will share stories and play games. Most of all, we will forever remember how our unique identities allowed us to create our own paths.