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Kat Turner

Outspoken Korean adoptee and single mom. Talking politics, social justice, going grey, and other hot-button topics. Based in Atlanta, GA.

Texas Lawmaker Wants Asian Americans to Change Their Names

Texas Lawmaker Wants Asian Americans to Change Their Names

One of the first questions people often ask me is what does Kat stand for? Probably simple curiosity because they assume it's a nickname but does your name really matter? 

According to the Houston Chronicle this past Tuesday, during House testimony on voter identification legislation, Texas State Rep. Betty Brown (R) caused quite a ruckus when she suggested Asian Americans change their names because they're too difficult to pronounce.

“Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese, I understand it’s a rather difficult language, do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?” Brown said.

What's in a name?

At birth I was named Moon Sook Ja. When I was adopted it was changed to Kimberly Ann Pfaltzgraff. It became Kimberly Ann Turner once I married. Then a new job where there was already a Kimberly and a Kim gave me a reason to switch things up and go by my initials. 

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It doesn't take a brain surgeon to see my Asian name was much easier to pronounce than Pfaltzgraff. It's like the dishes, not the beer (Falstaff). You'd think Kat would be simple, but I get called Pat and Kate all the time.  

Unfortunately, Brown's ignorant request reflects the viewpoint of many Americans, she just happened to be insensitive enough to say it out loud in a public forum.  

The problem isn't exclusive to Asian names. My daughter's Iranian friend chooses to go by Lily rather than listen to people mispronounce her name. I've had East Indian and African friends who've also given themselves "American" nicknames.   

What's in a name?  

Rep.Brown (and many other Americans) just don't get it. Asking other "citizens" to dumb down their name, is more than a pronunciation problem. 

Before this post, I've never willingly told anyone my Asian name. When you're trying to assimilate and fit into a culture where you're clearly a minority, sometimes the last thing you want is not to blend in. 

What's in a name?

My parents told me they named me Kimberly because the nickname Kim had an Asian ring to it. Growing up in Iowa as a sole minority the last thing I needed was another reminder I was Asian so I was happy to find a new nickname, but my mom hates it. Ten years after the fact she even wrote me a letter telling me it bothered her. It was okay for her to change it from the name given to me at birth that I held for a year. It was okay with her when I married to change my last name. But not when I changed my first name. 

What's in a name?

Identity. Moon Sook Ja identified me as Korean. Even though many of my adoptee friends have reverted to or incorporated their given Korean names into their American name, that is not my choice. Kimberly is what my (adopted) parents chose for me. Pfaltzgraff is my (adopted) father's name, which reflects a German heritage. They are the only family I know but I don't miss the massacred mispronunciations—or the strange looks when people are trying to figure out how I got that name. I'm no longer married, but when it comes to identity, Kat Turner is who I am. It's the one name I truly identify with. 

Mispronunciation is often a sign of laziness. If you actually look at Pfaltzgraff and sound it out phonetically, you should be able to get it right, or at least come very close. Asian names can be difficult, but if you make an honest effort, most will not be offended if you don't get it right. It's the intent of the effort.

What's in a name?

While Rep. Brown basically legitimized my old fear, openly revealing all my names is just one more step in being comfortable with my total identity. I do not expect my family and friends who know me as Kim to call me Kat. However, if someone happens to learn what Kat stands for, to call me Kim is disrespectful, as I did not introduce myself as such.  

As a high school sophomore, Lily has decided to go back to her given name, Sahar. As someone who's held names in two (or three) cultures (Korean, German, and American), and has had both her first and last names mispronounced, the real offense is when you don't even try to get it right.

If a name is that difficult (be it Asian or German), I suggest Rep. Brown tell poll workers to politely ask the voter to show identification so they can compare the written name if they're afraid their Chinese (or German) isn't up to snuff.

When one takes a deeper look, the real problem may actually be revealed in Rep. Brown's question to Organization of Chinese Americans representative, Ramey Ko, “Can’t you see that this is something that would make it a lot easier for you and the people who are poll workers if you could adopt a name just for identification purposes that’s easier for Americans to deal with?”  

Someone needs to tell the Representative from Texas, everyone who votes in this country, IS American.

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