Study Guide

How I Got That Name Family

By Marilyn Chin

Family

the name had been changed
somewhere between Angel Island and the sea,
when my father the paperson
in the late 1950s
obsessed with a bombshell blond
transliterated "Mei Ling' to "Marilyn." (7-12)

These lines point to what a huge influence our family—and especially our parents—have on our destiny. The speaker's father not only gives her a new name, "Marilyn," he also takes her to a new country.

My mother couldn't pronounce the "r."
She dubbed me "Numba one female offshoot." (20-21)

These lines suggest how the parents' zeal to assimilate into the new culture actually ends up estranging them from their children. The speaker's father gives her an American name so that she can become American. But this ends up alienating her from her mother, who can't pronounce her new American name properly.

granddaughter of Jack "the patriarch"
and the brooding Suilin Fong,
daughter of the virtuous Yuet Kuen Wong
and G.G. Chin the infamous,
sister of a dozen, cousin of a million (76-80)

The speaker's words in these lines suggest just how much our identity is determined by our family. The speaker defines herself in terms of her relationships to family members. Ultimately, we are who we are because of whom we're related to.

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