No, Your Honor, You Can’t Call Yourself ‘High Justice’ on the Ballot in Chinese

Hong Le still remembers meeting a charismatic woman campaigning for San Francisco district attorney in 2003. In Cantonese, that woman’s name was 賀錦麗, which is pronounced Ho Gam-lai and means “Congratulate Brocade Beautiful.”

Most Americans know her by another name: Kamala Harris.

“She’s the vice president right now,” Mr. Le, 88, said in Cantonese. “And she deserves it.”

In San Francisco, where more than a fifth of residents are of Chinese descent, politicians have long taken a second name in Chinese characters. And any serious candidate knows to order campaign materials in English and in Chinese.

But the city’s leniency for adopted names has frustrated some Chinese American candidates, who say that non-Chinese rivals have gone overboard by using flattering, flowery phrases that at first glance have little to do with their actual names. Some candidates have gained an advantage or engaged in cultural appropriation, the critics say.

No more. For the first time, San Francisco has rejected Chinese names submitted by 22 candidates, in most cases because they could not prove they had used the names for at least two years. The city has asked translators to furnish names that are transliterated, a process that more closely approximates English pronunciations.

Between games of ping pong at the Richmond Recreation Center in San Francisco, Hong Le said that names matter less to him than what candidates have done for the community.Credit…Carolyn Fong for The New York Times

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