Monday, April 13, 2009

What's In a Name?

Many Asian-Americans have common English names that are different from their given names in their own languages. These "nicknames" as it were, often appear on driver's licenses and the like, creating a conflict with official records that use a transliterated version of the person's formal given name. This situation creates difficulties in voting, when ID doesn't match state databases, explained Ramey Ko, a representative of the Organization of Chinese Americans, to Texas state Representative Betty Brown, during a hearing on a voter identification bill.

“Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese — I understand it’s a rather difficult language — do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?” Brown said.

Brown later told Ko: “Can’t you see that this is something that would make it a lot easier for you and the people who are poll workers if you could adopt a name just for identification purposes that’s easier for Americans to deal with?”
It's a simple enough suggestion - that Asians drop difficult-for-Americans given names, and instead be officially identified by a common English name they chose. But it's also a pretty stupid suggestion, and it blew up in Brown's face. Which should surprise absolutely no-one. It seems that Brown didn't realize that she was effectively asking people to give up their birth names in the eyes of the government simply for the convenience of officials and poll workers.

Of course, she later apologized, via a prepared statement (natch), and (cue the spin in 3... 2... 1...) her spokesperson suggested that opponents of the voter ID provision were stirring up the teapot tempest to derail the bill in the face of overwhelming support for it.

Other takes on the controversy? Quoth the Onion: “Wouldn’t it just be easier to teach Texans how to read?”

(I'd give bonus points for guessing Representative Brown's party affiliation, but I suspect you've already guessed it.)

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