As a writer, I’ve given a lot of thought as to what to call myself if I ever find myself published. On this blog, you’ll know me as downtownsong but I’ve gone through many different pen names.
One name, though, was never an option – my real one.
I’ve always considered pen names to be amazing – it’s like, they’re a chance to come up with your OWN name. It could be anything and it could be something you LOVED. Because … I have never liked my own name.
My first name – Tara – I didn’t use to like. Now, it’s sort of grown on me. As I like to say, I would not name my daughter “Tara” but I’m okay that that’s my name … after all, I could never imagine having a different name. “Tara” feels like me.
My last name, though … I still have not become reconciled to it. I sometimes wonder why that is. On the surface, it’s simple. I don’t like how it sounds. I don’t like how it looks.
But I wonder if there’s something deeper to it.
I’m Chinese and have a Chinese last name, as well as a Chinese middle name. And I have never liked either of them. I never liked my first name either, up until very recently. Could it be that that is because “Tara” seems to represent me, and I have only recently learned to love myself? And if it was, it would follow that I hate my own last name because it represents “Chinese”, a culture which I must confess I HAVENT learned to love.
I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s internalised racism in me. I think it’s largely because I was raised in the U.S. and Canada, on American, Canadian, and English books and TV. I never learned to speak Mandarin and even now I do prefer Western cuisine to Chinese. So I always identified more with Western culture. I felt like I ought to have been born white and I resented that I wasn’t. My name didn’t match who I felt I was.
I like to think I’m not a racist person but I must confess I AM – I’m racist toward “my own culture”. I have never liked the Chinese language, or Chinese entertainment, customs, fashion, and, yes, names. Could this be a knee jerk reaction to being Chinese?
Lately, I’ve been considering using my own name for writing simply because it’s really hard to have both personal social media and email and separate ones for my “writing persona” … not to mention work emails and such. But, yes, it makes me twitchy to think of using my Chinese surname. I’ve told my sister before that if I marry, I will very likely adopt my husband’s last name because I hate my own, not because having the same name as his is at all important to me.
But is this healthy? Should I simply embrace Western culture, complete with a pen name and all, and forgot about being Chinese? I don’t have to embrace Chinese culture, just because I have the Chinese blood.
Buuut … I know the answer already – I AM Chinese. It’s in my genes, it’s not gonna change. And, it’s true – blood doesn’t count for that much. We all have the same red blood, no matter our race. But I would like to make peace with my culture. I don’t WANT to hate it. I want to be able to say I’m PROUD to be Chinese, even if it isn’t the culture I most identify with.
So with the whole name question, I do think I want to use my own name. It’s sort of a way of reaffirming that THIS – this Chinese girl – is WHO I AM.
I learned not to hate myself. I’m trying to stop hating my name now.