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Asian Canadians, your name is not a mistake — and it belongs

New campaign aims to normalize Asian names and Asian identity.

If you have an Asian name like me, you’ve probably often seen your name highlighted with a jarring red underline when you type it out — oops, your name is taken as a spelling error, again.

While MS Office and other word processing programmes are universally used, they are not universally inclusive. These programs are not designed to recognize non-Anglo names and often see them as mistakes.

Elimin8Hate (E8), the advocacy arm of the Vancouver Asian Film Festival, aims to change this. The team has developed ReclaimYourName.dic — the first-ever custom dictionary of Asian names that can be downloaded and plugged into Microsoft Word to stop 8,000 Asian names from being redlined.

“What we’re trying to do is to normalize Asian names and Asian identity,” said Barbara Lee, Founder and President of VAFF and Elimin8Hate. “Seeing red under your name says in the language of software what is left unsaid in society: If you don’t have an anglicized name, you don’t belong.”

For those whose names are not in the dictionary yet, they can go to the campaign website to submit their names, which will be later manually added to the dictionary. 

“This might be a small list (of names) for now, but nobody’s really brought it to the forefront,” Lee added.

“This is something we’ve been talking about since 2020 when anti-Asian racism rose,” Lee added. “But personally, it’s something that I’ve been thinking about for almost 20 years.”

More than a name — it’s about identity

Lee immigrated with her family from Hong Kong to Vancouver when she was one year old. At the age of five, her elder sister suggested Lee adopt a westernized name, hoping Lee would fit in more than she did, who encountered microaggressions because of her ethnic name.

“I was always a little bit embarrassed about my ethnic Chinese name,” said Lee. “I felt I had to adopt the westernizing to feel like I was a part of the community.”

“That’s problematic,” she said. “I can’t be the only person who had this feeling around their names.”

According to E8’s website, last year in North America the top reason people cited for westernizing an ethnic name is racism and hate, with 62 per cent of votes for it.  

“It’s like you have to somehow change who you are to make other people feel comfortable,” said Lee.

Lee reclaimed her Chinese name around 2000 when she realized it was not just a name that she had abandoned.

“There’s a lot in the name — there’s history, culture and pride,” said Lee. “(Yet) it’s been used in a sense to other people.”

Recently, the Vancouver Police Board heard that anti-Asian hate crime reports were up 122 per cent since 2019.

Lee believes that respecting people’s ethnic Asian names is a vital part of anti-racism. She hopes that the Reclaim Your Name campaign could help build awareness, increase inclusivity and reduce the idea that Asian Canadians are just foreigners in their own country.

“Asian names belong,”Lee noted.