Vietnamese American college student says teacher asked her to use English-sounding name

ByDion Lim KABC logo
Tuesday, June 23, 2020
Asian American Laney College student says teacher asked her to 'anglicize' her name
A Vietnamese American Laney College freshman is seeking an apology from her math teacher after she says he wrote her emails asking her to "anglicize" her name, saying it sounded too much like an "insult in English."

OAKLAND, Calif. -- A Vietnamese American college student is seeking an apology from her math teacher after she said he asked her to "anglicize" her name, saying it sounded too much like an "insult in English."

Phuc Bui Diem Nguyen, a freshman at Laney College in Oakland, California, said she was looking forward to starting college and using her legal name after years of going by the nickname "May."

But on her second day of classes, she received a request from her trigonometry professor, Matthew Hubbard, via email to change her name to be more anglicized, or adapted for use in English.

Nguyen said "anglicized" wasn't a familiar term.

"I never heard that before. At that moment, I was surprised, so I Googled the meaning. I didn't know what it meant, so I called my best friend to ask him, 'What does that mean?'" she said.

The professor even referred to her as "P-Nguyen" later on during a Zoom class.

"I was shook because growing up, there were problems with how to pronounce my name, but they would ask me how to pronounce my name ... He's being an ignorant person and not trying to learn my name," Nguyen said.

She responded to his email, saying she felt his request was discriminatory. In response, Hubbard said "Phuc Bu" sounded like "[expletive] boy," and used more crude language.

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Laney College issued a statement soon after, which doesn't name Hubbard but acknowledges allegations of "racist and xenophobic messages from a faculty member" who is now on "administrative leave."

While calls to the school were not returned, the teachers union sent our sister station KGO-TV a statement saying it "condemns the ideas presented" in the emails. Hubbard also responded in an email, saying he was "waiting to talk to the press."

Despite this, Nguyen is still looking forward to this new chapter of her life and plans to use her legal name going forward, something she never did in high school.

"It means happiness, blessing," she said.

Nguyen said she spent time Friday speaking with the vice president of the school, who apologized for what happened. She said she feels satisfied with the school's response but still wants an apology from Hubbard.

She shared this message to other Asian Americans: "People should not be embarrassed of their name and they be proud of their name. I hope they'll feel more comfortable using their real name rather than giving people and then they can use or a white wash name."