What’s in a name?
There has never been a name both so American and so utterly Chinese American.
In the United States circa 1980’s and 1990’s, popular names for baby girls included Jennifer, Ashley, Michelle, Jessica, and…Stephanie. As immigrants, newly minted Chinese American parents also desired classic Western names for their children. Assimilation and blending in is huge theme for third culture kids like myself.
This being the case, I was just one of many Chinese tots waddling around with the same dang name.
Today if you search Facebook for “Stephanie Chan” you will get endless results of other Stephanie Chans and Stephanie Chan variations. Scrolling through, it’s a bit of an apocalyptic world full of same-name drones.
Nominative determinism is the idea that people are drawn towards activities and professions that fit their name. Perhaps you gravitate more towards happiness if your name is Joy, or towards cooking if your name is Baker. This concept is literally called “name-driven outcome” — meaning your label determines who you are. Maybe this is why as of late, parents have gotten keen, naming children wildly unique names with diverse spellings and meanings. Celebrities love to bestow their kin with abstract titles because they’re special, so their kids should be special as well.
A unique name means a unique child. The vice versa may be true as well — instances of the generality of my name (and ethnicity) do not escape me.
My roommate at camp in the summer of 2005 was surprised to meet me because her best friend was also named Stephanie Chan.
Work colleagues confuse me for my other Chinese American peer, Sophia. We both have 3 syllable names, but we’re just two girls with long dark hair and big eyes.
My improv class includes two other Asian American girls — other students in the class constantly interchange the three of our names.
If you take what Shakespeare’s’ words to be true, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, then it doesn’t matter what your surname is — not who your parents are nor your ethnicity or lineage. Your soul transcends all other branding you may have.
But unfortunately in the age where you aren’t just one Stephanie in a town of three, but rather one Stephanie in a world of hundreds of thousands, this iconic expression holds a little less water.
In a world of people who hold your same name and characteristics, how is one supposed to stand out? If you are given heterogeneousness as a baby, does it stick with you for life?
Do you strive for greatness? Or accept fate as you get swept away in a sea of people just like you?