Sometimes wrong assumptions are just mildly annoying or amusing. Other times they can be life threatening errors. Two personal stories show what's in a name.
The Non-Ethnic Last Name
My married last name is Adcock which originates from England. All the Adcock family members have light colored hair, eyes, and skin. With my Chinese heritage, my dark features set me apart.
I understand that I don't look like a typical Adcock. I find it amusing when people are surprised by my last name. It only becomes annoying when they don't believe it.
One day I was sitting in a doctor's waiting room along with a few other patients. A nurse opens the office door and calls out, "Maria Adcock?" I stand up and walk towards her. She is still glancing around the waiting room in search of someone she perceives would look like an Adcock.
Now directly in front of her, I say, "Hello."
"Yes?" the nurse replies.
She looks at me, glances at her clipboard, looks back at me, then says, "I'm looking for Maria Adcock."
"Yes, that's me."
"Adcock?" she asks again.
"Yes, I am Maria Adcock."
She finally lets me through the door.
In a society filled with an increasing number of bicultural families like mine, last names don't always tell the whole story.
The Ethnic Last Name
In another doctor waiting room incident, a female relative of mine experienced a mix up that could have proved harmful.
Several Asian women were seated in the waiting room. The nurse came out and called my relative's name. She stood up, but then saw the nurse ushering in another Asian woman, so my relative thought she must have misheard the name called.
About 10 minutes later, the nurse came out and called my relative's name again. The nurse brought her to a room to take vital signs such as blood pressure, temperature, and heart rate. She also asked my relative health and lifestyle questions, all which were carefully recorded into the medical chart.
The nurse then read over a list of medications my relative was suppose to be taking. My relative answered no to each one. The nurse reprimanded, "Why aren't you taking any of your medicine?" My relative replied, "I'm only suppose to take one."
At this point, my relative sensed something was wrong and glanced at the name on the medical chart. To her surprise, it was not her name -- it was someone else's, with a Chinese last name. My relative pointed out this error, and the nurse scurried out of the room, returning later with the correct chart.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) was implemented in 1996, and one aspect states that all patients' health care related data is private and federally protected. Each medical center must have mechanisms to verify and ensure the confidentiality of their patients' health care data. Obviously, the center my relative visited did not take these steps to ensure they were talking to the correct patient and therefore, erroneously shared someone else's medical information.
Have people ever made wrong impressions of you based on your last name?