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July 26, 2006

Comments

wolfa

IME, first generation immigrants (I know people mostly from China) choose names that they'd heard of (= traditional) and that sound good in Chinese (= often sound odd to us -- I knew lots of people named Doris, Agnes, Edith, Ethel, and one called Cinderella). This is much the same as how the Hebrew names given in the diaspora sound to Israelis (from what I have been told).

Hugo

Wolfa, all of your examples are female ones -- and they ring right in my experience. Women's names among recent immigrants sound like something straight out of a Jane Austen novel, while the men's names are often longer, more elaborate, and somehow more WASPy. That's a heck of a generality, I realize -- and it also reflects an interesting fascination with English-American culture. I never meet Chiness Americans named Hedwig or Helmut or Mario or Dominique, for example.

wolfa

This is true, and it's because for the life of me I cannot remember any of the male names (there were many more female Chinese immigrants in my classes than male) -- the female names happen to also be names family members had. Also, probably, because many traditional names for men sound much less dated than for women, so stick in my head less -- my grandparents are Peter and Max, Getrude and Rhona. (Obviously there are exceptions -- I have a great uncle named Horace and a great aunt named Helene.)

Henry and Max don't strike me as particularly old-fashioned, though, especially compared to Fitzgerald. (This is what I mean about traditional names for men being less dated sounding.)

Also, I'll point out that all the names I pointed out were chosen by the women themselves (though usually when they were 13 through 15).

And -- wow, am I scattered today -- WASPy names for baby girls are not necessarily traditional names.

Hugo

Well, there's a separate issue here: the strange rise in popularity in using last names as first names. It's an old Southern custom, of course, usually as a way of preserving surnames from the mother's side of the family. In the South, it's of course traditionally more popular for girls. But there's been a breakout in that in recent years, and we've got all these rugrats running around named "Chandler" and "Hunter" and "Taylor". I know it's no doubt snobby of me to say, but when it's not a family name, it seems so damned pretentious!

Liesl

This morning, I'm wearing a pair of slightly distressed women's jeans and one very bright multi-colored paisley cowboy shirt. I've got a Paul Frank watch on (with Julius the Monkey in Mariachi garb.)

Yes you always had a good body for those sort of clothes, Hugo. But you dress like a gay man.

glendenb

Front page treatment – I’m flattered, Hugo!

“Only later will some of them transfer to Cal, Stanford, and Georgetown and discover that the real privileged tend to be far more unkempt” – I love this line. It encapsulates perfectly the experience so many people have.

I wonder if some of the discomfort many working class families feel about college arises from that disconnect. A student from a working class family immersed in a residential campus quickly adopts the appearance and manners of the predominant culture. Those changes apparently disrespect the sacrifices the parents have made to afford the child’s education and they seem to belittle the values the parents hold toward education. A first generation college student coming home in ragged jeans and torn t-shirts is to parental eyes saying “Education is making me lazy and sloppy.” To the student, they are saying, “I’m fitting in – I look like the kids who know they belong.” The image of the neatly pressed chinos, Brooks Brothers shirt, and penny loafers is replaced by torn jeans, dirty shirt, dirty feet in borrowed sandals, and unkempt hair. Suddenly, college looks like something that creates slackers not professionals.

If you were surrounded by people wearing “the look of success” you have a ready image in your mind of that look, and it’s easy to adopt at a moment’s notice. If you grew up in a household where the image is work clothes – janitor’s uniform, hard hat, waitresses uniform (the specific jobs don’t matter) – then the ease with which the more privileged slip into “the look” does not exist. You have to work at it.

Stepping across social dividing lines is complex and difficult. The people who made your step possible no longer understand your values and attitudes. It’s not just moving from working class to middle class, it can also be the transition from rural to urban. I know many people whose parents moved to rural areas in the 70s and 80s who have, as adults, fled back to the city.

catty

I don't know if he asian men dressing a certain way has anything to do with anything other than being from a more conservative culture in some respects. Also, there are British influence on the HK-ers, and most choose to change names, not to sound WASP-y, but so that Americans and non-chinese won't struggle with their names.

Parts of asia can be somewhat formal in the respect that parents expect you to dress well when you go to school as a simple sign of respect for the institution. I don't think it's because they are trying to emulate anything per se, but bringing a level of respect of their culture to the US. I know that in most CC, a lot of the students still live with their family, so they also dress more formally as a result. The dressing down has more to do with living with parents moreso than any other factor.

catty

^^ I meant dressing down has more to do with NOT living with parents...

Technocracygirl

The names of many young men -- particularly young Chinese from Hong Kong -- are often rather touchingly quaint. This summer, I have -- these are first names, mind you -- a "Fitzgerald"; a "Woodrow"; three "Benedicts" (my middle name); two "Henrys"; one "Maxwell"; and, my favorite, one "Colfax." It sounds like a parody of the membership roster of my grandfather's fraternity, circa 1926!

Think of all the names that are considered "Jewish" at least frm the '30s of New York. Isadore, Irving, etc. Those were all upper-class British names, and in an attempt to "WASP-in" so to speak, a generation of Jewish men were saddled with them. Giving your child a name to fit in with the dominant culture is nothing new.

Jonathan Dresner

And at the risk of sounding horribly classist, it strikes me as a rather naive attempt to deliberately appropriate WASP cache.

I think you need to think a bit more about the differences and similarities between class boundaries and immigrant experiences. The commenter who pointed out that there are other linguistic issues is, as you say "spot on" and there's considerable concern among parents picking names in a second language that they pick something which won't sound odd, so they stay away from trendy names and stick with ones which have some familiar ring and which transliterate well.

Yankee in the South

Perhaps some of these young immigrants should transfer to Southern schools rather than California. At the elite Southern institution I'm at, I'm constantly amazed by the level of effort the young women in particular, but many of the young men as well, put into their attire. I promise you won't see more miniskirts there than here, plus full makeup (always, even during finals). The biggest difference is that the labels are less obvious - they assume their peers can recognize brands more subtly. Coming from Western and Midwestern schools, the apparel was a shock. Strapless sundresses for football games? Eek.

MannoFr


something wrong
I think


Hugo

Yankee, I know what you mean. I have lots of family associated with UVA Charlottesville, and the sartorial ethos at Cavalier football games is somewhat different than what one sees in the Pac-10. And Virginia's not even deep south...

Chas S. Clifton

Jonathan Dresner's comment brought up an old memory. In the mid-1980s, when I was a student at the U. of Colorado-Boulder, I visited the U. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to check out a graduate program.

After two days on campus, I finally identified a nagging feeling of oddness: I realize that I had not seen a single skateboarder anywhere, whereas at CU they were almost as common as bicycles.

Mike

Interesting. In college I wore blue jean or khaki shorts and a t-shirt or sweatshirt, depending on the weather. I didn't think much about what I wore, and it probably was because I felt like I belonged. But I don't think it was a class thing. My parents assumed my sister and I would go to college, but it wasn't a right. Their attitude was that education is important - both for its own sake and because it's the key to a good job. (My parents were the first generation in my family to finish college, and they went to the local state university in the rural South where I grew up.) I think whatever sense of belonging I had was due to my being a good student in high school and by receiving scholarship money to attend college - in some sense I had earned my place in college.

So I guess my experience was somewhere between the upper middle class sense of entitlement and the first-generation student's desire to prove him/herself.

Interesting, though; I had never thought about the connection between what I wore in college and my attitude toward being there.

verbal chameleon

Re: Chinese-American names

I grew up knowing a Chinese-American kid named William, which was innocuous enough; however, his brothers were Wilbur and Winston.

Colfax really is impressive...

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