LOS ANGELES — What’s your name? Mine is Viet Thanh Nguyen, although I was born in Vietnam as Nguyen Thanh Viet. Whichever way you arrange my name, it is not a typical American name. Growing up in the United States, I was encouraged by generations of American tradition to believe that it was normal, desirable and practical to adopt an American first name, and even to change one’s surname to an American one.
洛杉矶——你叫什么名字?我叫“越清阮”(Viet Thanh Nguyen),虽然我在越南出生时叫阮清越(Nguyen Thanh Viet)。无论你怎么给我的姓名排序,它都不是个典型的美国名。我在美国长大,世世代代的美国传统鼓励我相信,起个美国名是正常、值得又实用的做法,甚至把姓改成美国的才好。
Of course, that raises the question — what exactly is an American name?
这自然就带出一个问题——到底什么样才算美国名字?
When my Vietnamese parents became American citizens, they took the pragmatic route and changed their names to Joseph and Linda. My adolescent self was shocked. Were these the same people who had told me, repeatedly, that I was “100 percent Vietnamese?”
当我的越南裔父母成为美国公民时,他们采取了务实的做法,把名字改成了约瑟夫(Joseph)和琳达(Linda)。这让少年的我感到震惊。这可是那些曾反复告诉过我,我是“百分之百越南人”的人?
They asked me if I wanted to change my name. There was good reason for me to change my name, for throughout my childhood my classmates had teased me by asking if my last name was Nam. As in “Viet Nam.” Get it? The autocorrect function on the iPhone certainly thinks so, as I still sometimes get messages — from friends — addressed to Viet Nam.
他们问我要不要改名。改名字于我是有很好的理由的,因为整个童年期,班里的同学都会取笑地问我是不是姓南(Nam)。越南的南。了解了吧?iPhone上的自动更正功能无疑也这么想,我也仍不时收到短信——来自朋友的——里面管我叫“越南”(Viet Nam)。
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I tried on various names. I did not want anything too typical, like my Catholic baptismal name, Joseph. Or Joe. Or Joey. I wanted something just a little bit different, like me. How about — Troy?
我试过各种名字。我不想要太典型的,像我的天主教洗礼名字约瑟夫。或乔(Joe)。或乔伊(Joey)。我想要稍微特别一点的,就像我。特洛伊(Troy)怎么样?
It didn’t work. That name, or any of the other contenders, seemed alien to me. My parents’ constant reminder that I was 100 percent Vietnamese had worked its magic. I felt some kind of psychic connection to Vietnam, the country where I was born but that I remembered not at all, having left at age 4. This psychic tie was ironic, because my fellow Vietnamese refugees in San Jose, Calif., of the 1980s — who never called themselves Americans — would describe me as completely Americanized. A whitewash. A banana, yellow on the outside, white on the inside.
不管用。这个名字或其他备选,于我似乎都有些陌生。父母时常提醒我是百分百越南人还是有了奇效。我感觉和越南有某种心灵上的联系,我在这个国家出生但四岁就离开了,什么都不记得。这种内心的纽带有些荒谬,因为1980年代我在加州圣何塞的那些越南难民同胞们——那些从未管自己叫做美国人的人——会说我已经完全美国化了。被洗白了。是个外黄内白的香蕉人。
If I were indeed a banana, many other Americans probably just saw the yellow part and not the soft whiteness inside. The dilemma of being caught in between opposing cultures was hardly new and has not gone away, but it was still difficult for me and everyone else who has had to experience it.
设若我的确是香蕉人,许多其他美国人很可能只看到了我黄皮肤的外表,而没看到柔软的白色内里。夹在两种相对立的文化之间并非什么新的困境,而且一直存在,但对于我以及曾经不得不经历它的人而言,仍难以消受。
I was hardly reassured when I went on a field trip to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey and a pleasant young white American soldier, dressed in Vietnamese garb and fluent in Vietnamese, translated my Vietnamese name into a kind of American equivalent: Bruce Smith.
在我前往蒙特雷的国防语言学院(The Defense Language Institute)实地参观时,一个一身越南装束、操一口流利越南语的年轻开朗的美国白人士兵,把我的越南名字翻译成了某种美国版本:布鲁斯·史密斯(Bruce Smith)。我难以苟同。
The Smith part was a good translation, as Nguyen is the most common Vietnamese surname, inherited from a royal dynasty. In Australia, where many of the refugees went, Nguyen is among the most common surnames. I wonder if the Australians have figured out how to pronounce my name in all of its tonal beauty. In the United States, most Vietnamese-Americans, tired of explaining, simply tell other Americans to say the name as “Win,” leading to many puns about win-win situations.
史密斯部分翻译的好,因为“阮”在越南是最普遍的姓,它源自一个皇家王朝。在有很多越南难民的澳大利亚,阮属最常见姓氏之列。我怀疑澳大利亚人有没有弄明白我的名字怎样发音才能尽显它的音韵之美。在美国,多数越南裔美国人已厌倦了反复解释,索性直接告诉美国人把这个名字念作“温”(Win,赢的意思),结果弄出了很多关于“双赢局面”的双关语。
As for Bruce, I think George might have been more accurate. Viet is the name of the people, and George is the father of the country. Or maybe America itself should be my first name, after Amerigo Vespucci, the cartographer whose first name — Americus in Latin — has become a part of all our American identities.
至于布鲁斯,我想“乔治”(George)可能来得更准确。“越”(Viet,亦有越南人之意——编注)是人的名称,乔治是美国之父。又或者“美利坚”(America)应该做我的名,它取自亚美利哥·韦斯普奇(Amerigo Vespucci),这位制图师名字的第一个字(拉丁语是Americus)已成为我们所有美国身份的一部分。
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Or maybe, instead of contorting myself through translation — which comes from the Latin word meaning to “carry across,” as my parents carried me across the Pacific — I should simply be Viet.
又或许我无需用翻译来勉强自己——“翻译”的英文“translation”一词来自拉丁词,意思是“携带跨越”,正如父母带着我跨越太平洋一样——应该直接叫“越”。
That, in the end, was the choice I made. Not to change. Not to translate. Not, in this one instance, to adapt to America. It was true that I was born in Vietnam but made in America. Or remade. But even if I had already become an American by the time I took my oath of citizenship, I refused to take this step of changing my name.
而这正是我最终做出的选择。不去改变。不去翻译。在名字这件事情上,不去迁就美国。的确,我生在越南但成长于美国。或重塑于美国。但即便经过宣誓我已经成为美国公民,我依然拒绝走出改变我名字的这一步。
Instead, I knew intuitively what I would one day know explicitly: that I would make Americans say my name. I felt, intuitively, that changing my name was a betrayal, as the act of translation itself carries within it the potential for betrayal, of getting things wrong, deliberately or otherwise. A betrayal of my parents, even if they had left it open to me to change my name; a betrayal of being Vietnamese, even if many Vietnamese people were ambivalent about me. A betrayal, ultimately, of me.
相反,我凭直觉就知道了后来我明确知道的事情:我会让美国人说出我的名字。我本能地感觉到,改变自己的名字是一种背叛,因为翻译本身就带有背叛的可能,可能有意无意地出错。这是对父母的背叛,即使他们不介意我改名字;这是对越南人身份的背叛,即使很多越南人对我的态度很矛盾。最终,这是对我自己的背叛。
I render no judgment on people who change their names. We all make and remake our own selves. But neither should there be judgment on people who do not change their names, who insist on being themselves, even if their names induce dyslexia on the part of some Americans. My surname is consistently misspelled as Ngyuen or Nyugen — even in publications that publish me.
我对改名字的人不作任何评判。我们都在创造和重塑自己。但也不应该对那些不改名字、坚持做自己的人做出评判,即使他们的名字会令一些美国人读不出来。我的姓总是被拼错成Ngyuen或Nyugen——甚至在刊登我文章的出版物上。
In Starbucks and other coffee shops, my first name is often misspelled by the barista as Biet or Diet. I have been tempted to adopt a Starbucks name, as my friend Thuy Vo Dang puts it, to make my life easier. Hers was Tina. Mine was Joe. I said it once to a barista and was instantly ashamed of myself.
在星巴克和其他咖啡馆里,我的名字经常被服务生拼错成Biet或Diet。我一直想有一个星巴克式的名字,就像我的朋友邓水无(Thuy Vo Dang,音)说的,让我的生活更轻松一点。她是蒂娜。我是乔。我曾经对一个咖啡馆服务生用过这样的名字,但立刻就为自己感到羞愧。
Never did I do that again. I wanted everyone to hear the barista say my name. Publicly claiming a name is one small way to take what is private, what might be shameful or embarrassing, and change its meaning. We begin at some place like Starbucks, which is itself an unusual name, derived from a character in “Moby Dick,” itself an unusual name. Starbucks and Moby Dick are a part of the American lexicon and mythology. So can all of our names, no matter their origins, be a part of this country. All we have to do is proudly and publicly assert them.
我再也没有那样做过。我想让每个人都听到服务生叫我的名字。公开称呼一个名字是一种很小的方式,选择那些隐私的、可能令人羞愧或尴尬的东西,改变它的意涵。我们从星巴克这样的地方开始,它本身是一个不寻常的名字,源自《白鲸》(Moby Dick)里的一个角色,白鲸莫比·迪克也是一个不寻常的名字。星巴克和莫比·迪克是美国词汇和神话的一部分。因此,我们所有人的名字,不管来自何方,都能成为这个国家的一部分。我们所要做的就是自豪、公开地维护它们。
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Recently I visited Phillips Exeter Academy, a once all-white institution founded in 1781 whose population is now about 20 percent Asian. In front of the entire student body, a student described how he dreaded introducing himself when he was growing up and made up nicknames for himself so that he would not have to explain his name’s pronunciation. He asked me what I would say to people struggling to hold on to their names.
前不久,我访问了菲利普斯埃克塞特学院(Phillips Exeter Academy),这是一所成立于1781年、曾经全是白人的学院,现在大约20%的学生是亚洲人。在全体学生面前,一个学生描述了他在成长过程中是多么害怕自我介绍,并给自己起了昵称,这样就不用解释自己名字的发音了。他问我,对于那些努力保持自己原名的人,我想说些什么。
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“你叫什么名字?”我问。
“Yaseen,” he said.
“亚辛(Yaseen),”他说。
I told him that his name was beautiful, that his parents gave it to him out of love. I told him about the name I gave my son, Ellison, whom I named after the novelist Ralph Waldo Ellison, who was named after Ralph Waldo Emerson. I claimed for my son an American genealogy that was also an African-American genealogy that, through me and my son, would also be a Vietnamese-American genealogy. Ellison Nguyen, a name that compressed all of our painful, aspirational history as a country.
我告诉他,他的名字很漂亮,是父母出于爱给他取的。我告诉他,我给我儿子起名埃利森(Ellison),是来自小说家拉尔夫·沃尔多·埃利森(Ralph Waldo Ellison),埃利森的名字则是来自拉尔夫·沃尔多·爱默生(Ralph Waldo Emerson)。我为儿子要求一个美国的传承,也是一个非裔美国的传承,通过我和儿子,它也成了一个越南裔美国的传承。埃里森·阮,这个名字浓缩了我们这个国家所有痛苦而又充满抱负的历史。
America, too, is a name. A name that citizens and residents of the United States have taken for themselves, a name that is mythical or maligned around the world, a name that causes endless frustration for all those other Americans, from North to South, from Canada to Chile, who are not a part of the United States. A complicated name, as all names are, if we trace them back far enough.
“美国”也是一个名字。美国的公民和居民已经认为这个名字属于自己,这个名字已在世界各地成为一种神话或诽谤,从北美到南美,从加拿大到智利,这个名字给那些美国以外的美洲人带来极大的不快。这是一个复杂的名字,就像所有的名字一样,如果我们追溯得足够远的话。
Yaseen. Ellison. Viet. Nguyen. All American names, if we want them to be. All of them a reminder that we change these United States of America one name at a time.
亚辛。埃里森。越。阮。如果我们愿意的话,它们都是美国的名字。它们都提醒我们,可以从一个个名字做起,对美利坚合众国做出改变。