Dear Anonymous,

It sometimes happens that another individual (whether a supervisor, colleague, client, or even casual acquaintance) may call you by the name of another Asian person.  I think it is important to remember that this type of confusion can be caused by the most innocent of reasons — and not just because “All Asians lookalike.” Some years ago, I witnessed such an incident and asked the individual how they got confused.  As it turns out, this person got two common Chinese surnames “Chan” and “Chang” mixed up, which led him to call his colleague “Bobby [Chang]” instead of his correct name “Richard [Chan].”

If this type of name confusion happens to you, I suggest that you keep this mind.  As in any business situation where you are referred to by the wrong name, you should politely and respectfully correct the situation.  As I’m sure you’ll find, the person who called you the wrong name will not only be embarrassed by their error, they may be doubly chagrined when they learn that they called you by another Asian name.  Like in any situation, you should put the erring person at ease about their faux pas by taking the high road.  In fact, injecting some humor into the situation (“I do sort of look like him/her!”) can help defuse the situation and prevent an innocent error from becoming an embarrassing situation.

– Curtis

Dear Anonymous,

Hopefully, the situation is caused by a benign mistake.  If your supervisor, knowingly and pointedly, call you by a different name in order to belittle you, then you have a whole different problem.  You should try to correct him nicely (as Curtis pointed out above) and if he doesn’t change, then you may need to take this up with your HR representative.  If you go this far, you may need to have a plan to get out, either to another department or out all together. 

– Wee

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