Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Mixed name, mixed child: A biracial father reflects upon naming his newborn

Photo by Chiceaux Lynch/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A few posts in the past weeks have discussed interracial relationships, drawing several comments from readers who shared their thoughts and personal stories.

One reader, Guybe Slangen, went a step further, writing an essay about his own upbringing as the son of Belgian and Filipino immigrants and his unique name, which reflects his mixed heritage. Slangen and his wife, who is Korean American, recently had to decide on a name for their newborn daughter, who he describes as a "Kore-Belgi-Pino." The process prompted Slangen to reflect on his name and identity, and wonder what his child's experience will be. Here's his story.

I used to despise the first day of school.

Teachers would go down the class list calling out names, and I could tell when they got to mine by their confused looks and their long, silent pause. I would instantly raise my hand, but what would follow would be the inevitable name slaughtering, making me the instant target of relentless teasing from my peers.

When naming me after my father and grandfather, my immigrant parents were only doing what they thought was right. Names have come a long ways since then. Who would have thought we’d have a president with a name that rhymes with Osama? However, Asian names continue to challenge folks, as was exhibited in 2009 when Texas state Rep. Betty Brown proposed legislation for Asians to adopt names that are "easier for Americans to deal with.” What she failed to see was that like the color of your skin or the language you speak, names are so much a part of your identity.

I’m a new parent, and I recently went through the process of choosing a name for our mixed-Asian daughter. She is Korean, Filipino, Belgian American, or as I call her, a Kore-Belgi-Pino-can (try finding that box on a census). Given the crazy times I had with my name throughout my life, finding a name for our child made me look at my own identity journey, and wonder what my child’s will be like.

My parents came to the United States in the 1960s, and I was the first of three sons born in this country. I was named after my dad, Guido Slangen, a traditional name in his homeland of Belgium. My middle name, Bernabe, comes from my maternal Filipino grandfather. However, this full name only shows up on my passport and birth certificate. All my life I went by a nickname – a Filipino tradition used to fool and ward off evil spirits. My parents got creative and combined my first and middle names to come up with Guybe, and that is what I have been called as long as I can remember.

For years, I hated my name. I’ve heard all the different incarnations imaginable: Gaybe, Goobie, Gumby, even Gandhi. I’ll never forget the day in grade school when they discovered what my name was in Pig Latin (I’ll let you figure it out and have a laugh, but just imagine if that was you in fifth grade). My parents didn’t see the big deal in my name, and just thought it was one of the many things that made me unique - a tough sell for a young kid growing up in a predominantly white, traditional New England town.

But as they say, that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger. As time went on, I saw the logic of my parents' ways. I came to understand that my name was only one part of me. Those who judged me as different or ignored me because of it were missing out. There is so much more to me, or to anyone for that matter, beyond our names. That is what my parents were trying to pass on. This is not to say that names are insignificant, quite the contrary. Names are just the first of many stories that will continue to shape who you are.

Finding a name for our child was a powerful reflective process for me, one that has made me appreciate all over again what my parents faced as they started a family in a country that was very different than their own. I’m thankful for my parents' choice in names for me, but in the end, it’s not how others define you but rather how you end up defining yourself. I knew that whatever name we chose for our child – be it western, eastern, or something in between - we’d be there to help her along her journey to making that name her own. (And yes, we tested the name in Pig Latin beforehand.)

Oh, and her name is an east-west mix just like her (drum roll, please): Olivia Tala Jun-Slangen.

To confuse the evil spirits, we just call her Livi.