When I was younger I thought it a bit unseemly for Indians to have Anglicized names like "Sam Patel" or "Ken Singh." Who's that guy trying to fool? It felt like a nomenclatural comb over.
In time, I got over it. The fact is, names like that aren't all that common in the desi community in the first place, and probably have/had their utility among certain segments, eg., business people making inroads in rural America and the like (and of course, politicians). It's not like Jewish America, where there are a whole lot of people whose Eastern European surnames were shortened back on Ellis Island.
Which is why the Betty Brown furor seems so anachronistic. Brown is a Republican member of the Texas state legislature, and during a legislative hearing on voter ID standards, she said a couple things that have gotten her in trouble. Scroll to 3:23 of this clip for the money quote.
She was addressing Ramey Ko, a representative of the Organization of Chinese Americans. Ko's point, which he made repeatedly--and which I ask him about, lower down--was that many Asian American immigrants have problems in this country because they often have two sets of IDs: one that lists, say, their original, Chinese-sounding name (transliterated into English) and another that has an Anglicized name (like Ken). This causes problems when they go to vote.
But Brown wasn't really listening:
“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?”
The issue was politicized before Brown even made her comments because Texas Republicans want to prevent voter fraud and Democrats say the actual occurrence of voter fraud is negligible, and that this is just a veiled attempt at suppressing votes from minorities, who tend to vote for Democrats.
But her remarks have taken the issue in a whole 'nother direction. She's received press in the San Francisco Chronicle, UPI, the UK's Telegraph. There's now a really fun "Betty Brown Name Generator"--I plugged in "Arun" and was told my new name is Roy "Chicken and Dumplings" Brown. If you try Shivashankara Venkataraghavan you get Billy-Ray "Golden Corral" Brown.