The name game

The short and sweet revelation of my experience as an Asian American.


Fourth grade is a sea of Under Armour sweatshirts and matching Justice sets in the fourth-grade classroom, and I managed to wear both at the same time. I skip over to my bustling reader group, with the thought in my head. Honestly, how did I manage to be so great? My thoughts fade as I greet the looming eyes of my peers. I sit down with confidence gleaming on my face. I was proud to consider myself an advanced reader, a girl who could brag about her Lexile score to anyone who had open ears. After a necessary round of rehearsing terms from our special secret language (the only preliminary to stay in our clique), my peers seated themselves around our circle. One of my classmates eyes a long list of the class role and snatches it mischievously. “Let’s read out everyone’s middle front of the class!” The circle erupts in argument and chaos, all of our elementary embarrassment and pride seeping in.

 “No one needs to know!” “I’m telling the teacher!” “I fess up, my middle name is Marie! So embarrassing..” “Someone get that paper!” 

Amidst the laughter, I sit in my seat, fidgeting with my very ugly mood bracelet. No one was going to read my middle name right? I laugh along with my classmates, making fun out of the situation. Everyone was embarrassed, so there was no reason for me to be so rigid, right? But still, I prayed that they would skip over my name or forget about me or get rid of the stupid role sheet. But instead, another idea popped into my thought stream. I snatched the role sheet and quickly changed the L to an I. No one would know the truth now, and I could finally sit back and relax. 

“Ian? Your middle name is Ian?” My friends laughs echoed the room. “But that’s a boy name!” 

I laughed along with them. It was just a boy’s name was what they thought. And that was okay. Boys’ names were funny, but at least they were easy to pronounce and funny to poke fun at. 

We eventually finished the weird chaotic mishap and sat back down for reading groups. However, I felt a looming word echoing in the back of my head. 

You lied. Said my conscience. And about your own name? The name your mother and Grandparents were so proud of? The name that symbolized the spring and blossom of your culture? I began to fidget with my now lukewarm mood bracelet, yet again. This wasn’t going to happen again. I was going to tell my entire class that my middle name was NOT Ian. But the other side of my head crumpled up my fantasy. I am not like those kids. They will make fun of me, call me names, and worst of all, I wouldn’t be like the rest of my peers. Is what I thought. 

It took me a very long time to feel comfortable about my ethnicity and even more so, my ethnic middle name. Now, as I celebrate the upcoming Vietnamese New Year with my ancestors and family members, I think back about how I made a huge deal out of something so small like a middle name, and it makes me laugh. But it also upsets me, knowing how great my fear was. How scared I felt, knowing I was different from my white friends. But now, I finally accept my culture. And I love me for me, not merely just another child in her advanced reading group. And when people ask where I’m from, I tell them my mother’s story and how hard she worked to immigrate here for a better life.

And now I can say, with the uttermost confidence, Hi. My name is Elizabeth Lan Kemsley, and my middle name means orchid in Vietnamese.