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> asian americans
Lifestyle
Funny Asian Names 2.0

From Long Duk Dong to Chow Yun Fat, Asians have had to face the fact that one stereotype about them is true: They’ve got some pretty wacky names.

By Michael Y. Park

Posted: December 14, 2006


LET’S FACE IT. When it comes to the world of funny names, Asians take the cake (the yellow spongey kind from Chinatown).

Sure, there have been some infamous, made-up homophones from the world of movies. Like Sum Yung Gai from “Wayne’s World,” Long Duk Dong from “Sixteen Candles,” Fook Yu and Fook Mi from “Goldmember,” and Kissy Suzuki from “You Only Live Twice.” You know, jokey names from the Rosie O’Donnell School of Jingo Lingo.

That’s not we’re talking about.

We’re talking about genuine oddball names from the real world. Names like Oxide Pang (a Hong Kong filmmaker) and Butterfly Boualaphanh (a New York model scout).

THE NAME GAME

Why, oh why, would a pair of parental units bestow their offspring (whom they presumably love) with the kinds of appellations guaranteed to attract snickers and schoolyard bullies?

For the most part, it’s a simple case of bad transliteration plus unfortunate phonetics. The Vietnamese word “phuc,” for example, means “blessings” or “luck” and is a common name. In English, of course, the closest phonetic equivalent means, well, pretty much the opposite.

Then there’s the fact that schoolchildren are endlessly, inventively cruel. Give two 10-year-olds the most innocuous name in the world and some homework to avoid doing, and you’ll have at least one pretty vicious nickname in two minutes. Woe befalls the poor Korean American soul named Park (original meanings “unadorned” or “shining”) whose buddies decide to try pronouncing every name they know backwards.

Finally, sometimes Asian parents, in their eagerness to avoid falling into the bad-phonetics trap or in their rush to embrace their adopted culture, make some questionable judgment calls.

THE NAMESAKE

We all know the poor Asian kid who grew up burdened with the name Eugene (he probably played clarinet in the school band) and then promptly adopted a nickname—any nickname—in college. Or the girl whose parents figured “Fanny” was a traditional English name that no one could possibly find fault with.

And on its face, it seems perfectly logical that immigrant parents in the 1970s would name their daughter after a popular character on a popular TV show—Christmas “Chrissie” Snow of “Three’s Company.”

Even aiming high doesn’t necessarily get befuddled parents off the hook. One girl’s folks took their newborn daughter’s name from the wife of one of the most powerful men in the country—Nelson Rockefeller. Unfortunately, Mrs. Rockefeller went by the nickname Happy.

“She was in the paper all the time when I was born, and my parents liked her name,” explains Happy Hong.

And to wide-eyed newcomers to the land of plenty, what could be more patriotic than naming your kid after your adopted homeland? California’s a beautiful name, right? Even for a boy, kind of. Sort of.

So yes, Asian American kids often get stuck with some pretty wacky names. But they can take solace in the fact that it could be a lot worse—they could be Hollywood babies. Apple? Rumer? Shiloh? Suri? Kal-El?!

NOTE: Some readers of a previous version of this article noted that the Korean language does not have an “f” sound, thus making it unlikely that the word “fuk” has any meaning in Korean whatsoever. The author sheepishly offers his apologies to Korean speakers and those who helpfully offered their comments. The author’s PR agent, however, “certainly hopes that one day they will be able to grasp his humor.”

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