Debate Magazine

Hey, Beth Nguyen, Was It America That Ruined Your Name, Or Was It the English Language?

Posted on the 02 April 2021 by Doggone

I just read a New Yorker article by Beth Nguyen called America Ruined my Name for Me. It seems her name is Bich Minh Nguyen. You can guess what Anglophones do with that. Or as Beth says:

I cannot detach the name Bich from people laughing at me, calling me a bitch, letting me know that I’m the punch line of my own joke.

Of course, like everyone else, the answer for why this happens is simple: racism!
I would suggest another reason: Linguistic.

"Bich" you see means "Jade" in Vietnamese and is pronounced "Bic". She could have changed it to "Vic"or "Vicki" since as she points out Asian children often have second names, which is helpful if your name is "Phuc" or "Phouc".

On the other hand, you can guess that Anglophones pronounce "Bich" as "Bitch" which Ms. Nguyen attributes not to linguistic differences, but to the fact that people in the US are anti-Asian. One the other hand, I would be pretty certain if she had landed in Australia or New Zealand, or any other anglophone nation, that the same problem would have occurred.

Maybe not so much in Canada, and definitely not in France. She probably wouldn't have written this article had her family emigrated to a Francophone nation, which was a definite option for them. That's because "Bich"would be associated with a different animal than what it is in English.
"Biche" in French means "doe": a sweet and gentile animal. Alas, Beth is the only "Bich" I have ever met. So, I really can't get into this. And for all I know she may have gone to France. Anyway, she should be happy she wasn't named "Phuc" or "Phouc" since that one is pretty universal.

On the other and, I can understand a desire to fit in which "Bich" doesn't in an anglophone country, but on the whole I'm not sure if that rises to the level of racism. After all, her family came to the United States and didn't try to move on to Quebec or France. France would have been another option since Indochina was once a French Colony. And obviously, the "racism" wasn't bad enough that the family decided to move back to Viet Nam. They remained in the US.

Anyway, Beth admits she has always given fake names in restaurants, which has moved on to writing the article I am responding to with the name "Beth Nguyen". So maybe the "racism" isn't that vicious that it can't be escaped from. I'm pretty sure her Western friends didn't mind if she was "Bich", "Beth", or whatever. 

Since I am bilingual, I see "Bich" and think of "Biche", a doe, a sweet animal. My pronunciation of her name would probably also be wrong since it would be more in line with the French. That's my problem with her article. It's dangerous to make blanket statements about people.
Prior to Brexit, I identified as British, but post-Brexit I am European. While I can pretty much pick and choose amongst a few of the European nationalities, it is the Frencophone nations which I identify with most these days. That means both my US and French "homelands" have been at war with Vietnam. France was probably the worst.

But, I didn't see "Bitch"when I read your name "Beth": I saw "Biche". That would have been the way I pronounced it.

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