Friday, March 07, 2008

The Jump

After eight months of marriage, I’ve legally changed my name from Sara Emilia Morishige to Sara Morishige Williams. I’m proud to have Evan’s last name, yet I miss the contrast my maiden name has always provided.

“I’m Chinese, Japanese, and half Mexican.” The amount of times I’ve said this in my life seems endless. The perpetual stream of inquiries about “what I am” is because my appearance is not entirely any one of my three ethnicities.

Morishige. If you can pronounce vowels, it rolls off the tongue like butter from pancakes fresh off the griddle. I’ve theorized that people struggle with the pronunciation because they see it’s foreign and don’t want to embarrass themselves. Translated, mori means forest, and shige, abundant. I appreciate the beauty and fluidity of my maiden name both in sound and meaning, yet it is only a nod to one quarter of my whole. Nonetheless, it has historically distinguished the fact that I’m an ethnically diversified American.

The politic of what it has meant to grow up American with mixed ethnicity has been a delicate balance between being American, and managing the influences of each culture. The obligation of not letting culture die with my parents, or their parents has influenced my life and unwittingly defined my character. Customs linger on the periphery, interjecting when I allow them.

And so, here I am, with what seems to be the plainest name in the world: Sara Williams. I'm happy with it. I will remain the same person I've always been, having only lost a perceived identity, and gaining anonymity that is the antithesis of mixed ethnicity in America.

42 Comments:

Blogger kimbalina said...

I know exactly how you feel. When I got married and changed my last name from an Asian last name to my very plain "white" last name, my entire Asian identity in my name was gone. And unlike you I kept my middle name and just dropped the old last name.

It's okay...now we've got even more stories to tell about who we are.

10:25 AM  
Blogger iluvpepero said...

your story touched me. then i waxed nostalgic to the time i was engaged and faced the same conundrum. throughout my entire life almost everyone i had ever met stumbled as they attempted to pronounce my japanese surname, yet i really cherished it because it too had a special meaning. despite being a sansei and very much an american, my name made me feel connected to my japanese ancestry.

at first i struggled with the thought of letting go but then i realized it was about a special union, the merging of two families and different cultures into one.

2:44 PM  
Blogger jesus chuasworth said...

if you haven't already read...
http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.wordpress.com/2008/01/20/11-asian-girls/

more on jesus:
www.revelationinc.blogspot.com

2:01 PM  
Blogger Aimee Greeblemonkey said...

I jumped over from Twitter, and wanted to say what a lovely post this was.

In my case, I actually always hated my maiden name, and oddly enough it never reflected my mostly German heritage. When my husband and I got married, I took his name, which happens to be German. Although they were as far from German as you could get - all hot dogs and apple pie.

So the joke between us has always been: He gifted me with a German name and I gifted him with a German background.

10:17 PM  
Blogger Muriel said...

I came across your entry from Twitter and was absolutely touched. I just got married in November, and am in the same situation as you.

I am Filipino, Chinese, German, and British. People *always* ask "what are you?" and since my last name was Hahn, they assumed I was full-blown Chinese, but couldn't pin point what was "wrong." (But little did they know Hahn is German.)

My beau's last name is very plain compared to what I've experienced my whole life. I dropped my middle name and changed everything but my passport to Muriel Hahn Jordan and still feel just the way you described.

I suppose I still have my first name keeping people on their toes...

Thanks for writing this.
http://twitter.com/murielsays

6:39 PM  
Blogger pok said...

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9:47 AM  
Blogger Ron said...

Hey, saw your wish on Twitter. My allergies nearly disappeared after I started using a nasal wash. It was incredible and life changing - but it depends on the allergies you have.

Good luck

1:20 PM  
Blogger janelle said...

beautifully written...i couldn't have said it better myself:)

2:33 PM  
Blogger Rolando said...

You have a beautiful name. Maybe you can just keep your maiden name and your last name. It's common to have both. My wife keeps her maiden name for legal purposes, plus it make her easier to find. You have a unique mix.

My co-worker has a similar mix, Japanese/Mexican. It's interesting listening to him cause he has a Japanese last name, but total Mexican accent when speaking.

I like the meaning of your maiden name. Wish my name mean something, lol.

2:29 PM  
Blogger paulzag said...

I am the son of a feminist who has changed her name four times (two marriages as for the rest - don't ask).

My ethnically Italian wife took my family name (I asked her not to) and we have two daughters. So this issue is dear to my heart.

I am ethnically Greek with some Austrian and Russian. Culturally I'm Australian. That explains my non-Anglo last name Zagoridis.

Taking the husband's name irks me for the overtones of property and ownership.

From a practical perspective changing your legal name complicates your life forever after. Most official business requires proof of identity, but you must verify every step of the name change. This is almost a chain of title search, whereas a birth certificate was adequate before it must now be accompanied by a marriage certificate.

Maintaining your legal name as your birth name means your passport, birth certificate, drivers license and other identity information is simpler.

Professionally, changing your name disconnects you from some part of your network and makes you harder to find in this interconnected age. You never know when someone from school, your neighborhood, or an earlier job may need you or vice versa.

By all means when kids arrive be Mrs KidsLastName around them and their events.

Now my newly-married cousin was glad to be rid of our cumbersome last name, so there is an argument for personal taste.

I hope my daughters keep their names, but I'll love them whatever they do. As a male - my opinion should not count in this debate.

As an aside, Americans have very few problems pronouncing my family name, but in Australia it is a disaster.

3:58 PM  
Blogger heidileon said...

hola Sara (sin H) just like my mom!

I think I have and idea of how you feeel, I'm a mexican (100%) woman living with a french boyfriend in Shanghai,China, and it's very funny bcs chinese people thinks I'm chinese (a very dark skin kind of chinese) and laowais (foreigners) think I'm hindu, brasilian or from any other country you like.

Oh and my name is not mexican at all: heidi..so confusing for the rest but for me.

saludos

2:39 AM  
Blogger dunstan said...

I can't imagine losing my last name and taking someone else's. It hadn't occurred to me until just then what a crazy idea that is... Very brave of you.

1:57 PM  
Blogger Izzyweb said...

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7:33 AM  
Blogger Lu said...

Either name you use, you are as lovely as can be. I loved reading your story.

3:53 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

I love the second commenters comment, so true! I enjoyed reading this.

1:31 PM  
Blogger furlongdesign said...

If you want to blog for magazine contact me at twitter/barnabasnagy - we are already followed

12:11 AM  
Blogger test said...

Hey Sara. Love your writing. I know exactly how it's like re: being Asian American. I was only there for 4 years though. But I truly believe in embracing your culture. In your case being a Chijacan sounds awesome.

And finally, congrats!

-Vince Wong
@hongkongwong on Twitter

8:35 PM  
Blogger Visitken said...

Interesting surname. Sounds a lot like "hourglass" in Korea: moreh = sand, shigeh = clock. Phonetically, it's pronounced MO-REH-SHEE-GEH. Dunno if that sounds like your last name or not...

7:54 AM  
Blogger by Elise Miller (c)2002-2009 said...

And then there are those who marry into the ethnic surname. Apparently I kept my maiden name and at the time it was a bold move.

9:40 AM  
Blogger Tiger Brown said...

Dear @sara,

I wrote a post on changing my name from Tara Brown to Tara Bonner. There were mixed reviews from women about changing it and not understanding why I would want to change my identity. I have a pretty plain last name but I'm from Canada not the US and for what ever reason it makes me feel more connected to my family to have the same last name. At the same time I think I will feel more connected to Sean if I change mine to match his.

I still don't know what I'm going to do but at the very least my initials will remain the same if I do it, and my twitter name doesn't include a last name. :)

@tara

3:30 PM  
Blogger Joseph Hunkins said...

"A Rose by any other name ..."

Just be thoughtful naming the little Twitters when you decide to have kids. Our family of 4 has 3 diff last names = tricky, but fun.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Camille said...

Great post. Name changes reach us deep down. I haven't changed my name yet legally, which I can say isn't entirely my fault (we're coming up on our 8th anniversary!). I use his last name on everything but legal documents. I have good reason, though! He still hasn't completed his own name change documents from when he changed his last name to that of his biological father. Again, he uses the last name on everything except SSN documents. It would just be weird for me to change mine and we still have different last names!

~Shani

8:32 PM  
Blogger llolo said...

Sara, Since I moved to US 11 years ago, one thing that I have never understood, is why women change their last names after marriage? I understand that this is a American tradition and its a sign of forming a special union, but do we follow all traditions handed to us by our previous generations, even when the personal costs are too high? if not, when do we make the call to stop trickling them down to the next generations?

To me, suffering an identity crises after marriage(& hopefully not in your case or mine, after each marriage or after each divorce) is one thing, but also having a tradition affecting your career and past connections is another.

Most male CEO's, Presidents, VP's authors, scientists, and artists, do not have to worry about their identity, social connections, and legacy, evaporating because of marriage or divorce.

Seriously, imagine the amount of damage changing one's last-name could have done to Allan Greenspan's and Albert Einstein's careers. Their published papers would be so hard to follow because they carried different last names at different times in their careers!! Or Imagine if a female US Senator decided to get a divorce one day, she would have to suffer major career damage(not only because divorce is not an acceptable by most constituents) but also because most people won't even recognize her name on the ballot next time around.

12:03 AM  
Blogger rashid said...

it is bad for you that have changed your first name becuse you have grew with your name in your life....

11:51 AM  
Blogger hinsonian, ind. said...

lovely post i can relate too. i have one of those "plain white names" and am attempting to establish it as my own, meaning something i can believe in. My wife is Korean, and i recall those conversations she kept all her names, as well as my son. that gives him four names and they are all beautiful. i find the displacement of a person's name to be odd, even though it's tradition. thanks.

2:32 PM  
Blogger Jody said...

I'm Jon (without the "h") I know how you feel. Your Starbucks cup caught my eye. The "h" thing has not been too bad for me. My Name issue is in having a nickname "Jody". Once I grew out of the (its a girls name) phase I grew into a life of ever explaining to IT my email should be Jody@ but to HR make the check out to Jon (w/out) the "h" and around and around "who's Jon" no I'm looking for "Jody" uggg. My point, don't nickname your child at birth. If you have to do it, wait until they have grown into the real name. Oh Yeah, I used say, "my Mom beat the H out of me when I was a kid"

9:30 PM  
Blogger Isaiah said...

Cheers to a beautiful bittersweet story.

My gf said she would drop her last name completely only because it wouldn't work next to mine. I thought it made sense and wasn't offended.

6:30 AM  
Blogger KiyoG said...

How do you do?
my twitter name is "ehubble1701"
I'm living in japan.
So i am not good at writing English. sorry.

I read your twitter profiles. so i jumped at this your blog here.
and i read your opinion of changing the name which women married.
i thought , ah,,so i am a man,,name after you married, not care so seriously.

This is my illustlation collection HP.
http://kiwbk.hp.infoseek.co.jp/ForPortrait/indexPort.html

see you next time.

6:52 AM  
Blogger Cameron said...

beautiful

7:31 PM  
Blogger .:| Driven By said...

I can totally identify with being of mixed background. I'm Thai, Filipino, and Chinese myself. Everything you've written speaks to my experience.

You've articulated it very nicely.

I am inspired to share your post with others.

2:21 PM  
Blogger Ashley Woods said...

It is wierd to think of a world where you don't wait everytime you meet someone new for the inevitable- "soooooo.....what are you?" being white, black and native and my business partner being white and chinese- i have started preparing opening line jokes to accompany the question to make life more amusing and perhaps even open people's eyes a little bit more.

ashley and catherine- www.ashleyandcatherine.com

11:01 PM  
Blogger Alun said...

What a wonderfully eloquent summation of what it is to be a modern ethnically mixed American. Bravo. Congratulations on the name change too. My wife also recently changed her name. She is Chinese, but now has a western last name. She now carries a strange collection of names, but she seems very satisfied with the result.

6:07 AM  
Blogger Tiffany said...

This is was my first time at your page. I love your post, you're a great writer. I can def. relate to your post. I grew up in white suburbia as a black girl. I moved to Chicago and all of a sudden I was "mixed with something" ... I didn't even know I was mixed with anything...

fyi: Can you imagine this is how I got here? Mashable - "CEO of Twitter's Wife Tweeting on her Labor" - then I went to see your tweets- then I see your site... i love the internet...sometimes it's actually worth following the path of logic when you land on blogs like yours.

7:35 AM  
Blogger Christopher said...

I know it's probably a little late to influence your decision now (given that you're tweeting through the labour of your first childbirth!) but perhaps incorporating a Japanese middle name into your child's name would be an appropriate nod to his/her - and your own. That way you can have your cake *and* eat it. :)

Hope it all goes well! Incidentally, you trended on Twitter on Tuesday like crazy. ;)

12:54 PM  
Blogger MD said...

I'm half Chinese and half Japanese. All my life, I've had people come up and say, "What are you?" I had a Chinese last name, but my mixed Asian ethnicity always challenged people because I didn't quite fit the mold of any "typical" Asian form.

I'm married to a man with an Irish name, and my first name just so happens to be a common Irish first name as well, so these days, people are surprised to see a non-distinct Asian woman with the name "Margaret Donnelly." I just tell them I'm "Far Eastern Irish." ;-)

1:11 PM  
Blogger MKL said...

I have a family name that is hard to pronounce, especially for foreigners. And it doesn't sound very nice. But whatevs. I'm stuck with it. We just can't always get what we want in life.

2:29 PM  
Blogger Jessica Eiden Smedley said...

I was more than happy to take my husband's surname, but it felt so strange. When my new Social Security Card arrived I surprised myself by bursting into tears.

5:32 PM  
Blogger jibran said...

you have very cute web site i like it.
that is my website http://allkindofbiryani.blogspot.com
from where you can make BIRYANI which is famouse food in asia.

3:35 AM  
Blogger Rehab Chougle said...

For someone who lived in an Arab country,looks like a Zoroastrian, is an Indian and has imbibed global values, the struggle is inevitable.
At times its the pressure of cultural rituals and at times its the desire to keep it all alive with mundane tasks.

8:31 AM  
Blogger eric said...

You still look asian to me. regardless you just like tons of asian females who marry into WHITE society

2:06 PM  
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