Etiquette is Dead: When My Real Name Brings Out the Casual Racist in You

Today’s post is dedicated to something that’s been on my mind since I started my current job.

The day I started, I found out I was sharing an office space with a woman in a more senior position than me. Within 10 minutes of superficial chatting, she gave me her cell number and asked for my contact details. No biggie – I would’ve done the same thing. Below is the exchange I had with her:

New Coworker: Hey, can I have your contact details to put into my phone?
Me: Sure. It’s Carol. I’ll just text you my number.
New Coworker: Carol isn’t your real name, right? All of my Chinese friends back home have their real Chinese names and chose their English names to fit in. It’s all so exotic. So what’s your real name?
Me: *nervous laughter* … Hate to break it to you, but Carol is my real name.
New Coworker:

For the rest of the day, I obsessed about this exchange. In my 30 plus years of life, I’ve never been asked such an idiotic and clueless question. What’s your real name? Really?
Am I being confronted with casual racism? Am I being tested? The longer I stewed in my own bitterness, I saw my new coworker as the “racist” white lady. I beat myself up for not calling her out on her bull shit or even responding with something witty. Should I even have too?
I’m still affected by this exchange. I don’t have the correct answers to reply to these types of questions. Will it come with experience or do I need to keep a Rolodex of witty comebacks filed away in my brain?
My rage threshold maxed out when I remembered my new coworker said it so friendly that it was impossible to get mad. It was asked so casually like it was no big deal. And if I did have a traditional Chinese name, why should it be considered exotic? It’s my name. Take the time to learn it and pronounce it properly.
What would you have done in this situation? Has this ever happened to you? Email me at

  1. […]   SCENARIO 1   Context: On my first day at my current job, myself and the “racist” white lady were invited out to lunch to meet our new department mates. When you look at […]



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