Help! An Anonymous Emailer Is Trying to Shred My Self-Esteem—and I Think I Know Who It Is.

Advice on manners and morals.
Aug. 14 2014 6:00 AM

Inbox Bully

An anonymous emailer is trying to ruin my self-esteem—and I think I know who it is.

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Dear Prudence,
I’m a white American. My husband is a Chinese immigrant. When we married, I took his last name—let’s say it’s “Chang.” It’s been mildly amusing when people have a moment of confusion comparing my face to my last name. Now I’m job hunting and my last name is causing some problems. I work in an international field, and prospective employers always mistakenly assume that I am of Chinese descent. Of course they are not supposed to discriminate based on race, but when I arrive at the interview I can tell that they are disappointed, and I don’t get the job. Yesterday a prospective employer called for a phone interview. It quickly became clear that she was angling to find out my race, commenting that I had “no accent,” and inquiring about my “life journey” (meaning, where was I from). I related this to my husband who told me that I should not have taken his last name and that now my decision is undermining my job search. I don’t want to change back to my maiden name. I want my children, my husband, and I to share the same name. I hate to think that racial identity matters so much in this day and age, but I’m starting to see how my married name is confusing. I don’t want to send my résumés out and live my professional life as “Mrs. not-really-an-Asian-person Chang.” Do you have any ideas?

—Not Really an Asian Person

Dear Not,
I assume the companies know that the life journey of someone named “Chang” can be thoroughly American and not include speaking Mandarin. And that the journey of a “white American” can include being an East Asia scholar. I’m not sure whether you are assuming that these companies only want to hire Asians for departments that deal with Asia, or that that there is some kind of racism at work (Asians are smart and such hard workers!). If you are right that these companies are obsessed with your racial heritage and you are not being hired because you’re not actually Chinese, this is not only ridiculous, it’s illegal. I understand people may be surprised when they plan to interview a “Ms. Chang” and you walk in. But once they’re done with their double-take, they should be professional enough to make this a nonissue. However, since you’re trying to establish your career and you know that most job interviews just don’t pan out, suing a variety of potential employers to try to prove you are being discriminated against because you’re Caucasian is unlikely to enhance your prospects. First of all, put a photo on your LinkedIn page—that may cut down on the double-takes. And since every potential employer is going to want a résumé, make a small tweak to yours. Fashion yourself as “Daphne McGillicuddy Chang.” That does not require you to take back your maiden name, nor hyphenate your current one. Sure, you shouldn’t have to do this, but if implicitly spelling out your background lessens confusion and leads to a successful job search, it will be worth it.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence, 
My ex-wife and I divorced about three years ago. Since the divorce, she has kept my last name. That has annoyed me since we originally agreed that she’d take back her maiden name. Now she’s pregnant by her new boyfriend. There aren’t any young children of this generation in my family, and I’m worried that she’s going to pass on my family name to her child. I’d want her to change her name back to her maiden name, so how do I approach this conversation? Or is this a petty request?

—Surly Surnames

Dear Surly,
You’re not Mr. Chang, are you? While you two may have agreed who gets the keep the car, and who gets to keep the dishes, I’m afraid you can’t try to take custody of your last name. There are lots of women who at some point took a husband’s last name, and kept it even after the marriage went kaput—the president of Harvard, Drew Gilpin Faust, is one. Your ex gets to call herself whatever she likes, and that goes for the naming of her baby. If you do a White Pages search of your last name, surely you will find there are lots of people walking around with it, most of them not directly related to you. Your ex is pregnant by another man, which is pretty good evidence she’s moved on. Do the same.

—Prudie

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Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column.