Growing up, I thought
being named after Connie Chung
made me unique.
… then I found out about the rest of us.
Connie Hsu, b. 1981
Connie Chu, b. 1985
Connie Huang, b. 1989
Connie Chung, b. 1985
Connie Koh, b. 1987
Connie Kwok, b. 1982
Connie Liu, b. 1995
Connie Chung, b. 1998
Connie Moy, b. 1984
Connie Wu, b. 1994
Connie Chung, b. 1980
Connie Yang, b. 1991
Connie Jang, b. 1989
By Connie Wang
Photographs by Connie Aramaki
It was on my first day of college at the University of California, Berkeley, when I started to realize there were more of us out there.
Suddenly, I was among a student body that was almost 50 percent Asian. While I was standing in line to order a sandwich at the campus cafe, I heard a voice from across the room: “Connie Wang!”
I swiveled to see who it could be — I didn’t know anyone yet. But the person wasn’t shouting at me. Instead, a girl standing nearby waved in response.
Afterward, I went back to my dorm room and typed “Connie” into the campus Facebook. I found the girl from the sandwich line — and I also found many, many more. In my freshman class alone, there was a Connie Zheng, a Connie Guo, a Connie Xu, a few Connie Chengs, and multiple Connie Wangs. No wonder the university email address I’d wanted had been taken.
All this time, I’d thought the story of my name was special; little did I know it was the story of a generation.
Unlike most people, I was able to pick my own name.
I already had one, of course — Xiaokang, my Chinese name, given to me by my maternal grandfather, which referred to the Communist Party’s commitment to achieving “a moderately prosperous society.” But in 1990, my parents decided to raise me in the United States, and we all had a chance to choose a new identity. They asked for my 3-year-old’s opinion: What would I like to be called in this new place? I answered, the story goes, with Connie, after that pretty “ayi,” or auntie, we watched on TV.
That ayi was Constance Yu-Hwa Chung, or, as the world knows her, Connie Chung. Ms. Chung had rejoined CBS News a year earlier; she would eventually become the first Asian and second woman to be an anchor of a major weekday news program, appearing nightly alongside Dan Rather to deliver the world’s biggest news events to Americans at home, my family included.
At the time, my mother, Qing Li, was recalibrating her expectations for what her life would look like. She’d been an editor of nonfiction books back in China, but found the prospect of attempting to climb the professional ladder in the United States without mastery of the language deeply intimidating. Some friends told her that other Chinese immigrants had found employment at restaurants, so she tried that for a while, but the job was boring, and she quit. So much of her early years in America felt both formidable and dull, isolating and overwhelming.
What gave her some comfort, though, was seeing Ms. Chung on TV. Here was a woman with a face like hers, with great taste in clothes, who wore beautiful makeup and had stylish hair, yet asked aggressive questions of powerful people, most of whom did not seem to treat Ms. Chung any differently because of her appearance.
Connie Chung hosting the “CBS Evening News” in 1991, the year after the author named herself Connie.
Connie Chung was trusted and respected — qualities that my mother herself had enjoyed in China. So when I picked my name, my mom readily acceded. What more could she hope for from her own Connie?
What my family didn’t know was that a version of the same scenario was playing out in living rooms and hospitals across the country. Asian American families from the late 1970s through the mid-’90s — mostly Chinese, all new immigrants — had considered the futures of their newborn daughters and, inspired by one of the few familiar faces on their TVs, signed their own wishes, hopes and ambitions onto countless birth certificates in the form of a single name: Connie.
Today, it’s common to join an organization, take a new job or attend a conference and meet an Asian Connie; at every workplace I’ve been one of a few. And with each of them, I’ve found it’s always the same story: No, it’s not short for Constance. Yes, they grew up watching Connie Chung on TV. And, yeah — it is weird, isn’t it, that they’ve never met a non-Asian Connie their age either?
Because Connie is not a popular name — not now, not when I chose it and not for many decades prior. According to the Social Security Administration, “Connie” peaked in the 1950s, when it was the 40th most popular name for girls. In 1987, the year I was born, even “Priscilla” was more popular. And still, I’ve had an enormously difficult time securing social media handles, usernames and company email addresses.
Over the years, I’ve come to realize that I’m part of a phenomenon: Generation Connie. By now, I’ve talked to dozens of Connies within this sisterhood, and learned we have a remarkable amount in common — that it is not by chance that our families and, in particular, our mothers, all gravitated toward the same name. We all have our own stories about how our families came to the United States, and why they chose the name they did. But we’re also part of a larger story: about the patterns that form from specific immigration policies, and the ripple effects that one woman on TV prompted just by being there, doing her job.
Connie Chung was born in 1946 in Washington, D.C., the last of 10 children, five of whom died in infancy. Her family fled China in 1945; she was the first to be born in this country.
From the hospital, her father, an official with the Chinese Nationalist Government, phoned her four older sisters at home to pick a name for their new sibling. Flipping through a magazine, they landed at random on Constance Moore, an Iowa-born starlet who had made her name in wartime musicals. But no one ever called the new baby Constance, Ms. Chung told me: “It was always Connie.”
Connie Chung, center in a pink dress, with her sisters.
In college, Ms. Chung found her biology major uninspiring, and eventually secured an internship on Capitol Hill. The pace was exciting, and she decided to switch to journalism. She picked television because it was novel and, with TV stations in the 1960s being pushed to diversify their ranks, she figured she might have a better chance. Ms. Chung was quickly hired by a local news station and soon afterward began working at CBS News as a correspondent under Walter Cronkite.
“In the beginning, what helped me get the job was being a minority and a woman. But from that moment it was a detriment,” Ms. Chung said. “I was working in a newsroom dominated by white men, I was covering white men in Washington — a male-dominated city and government. It was surprising and disconcerting for all of them, including me.”
It could be lonely at times, especially at the start. “I was just trying to keep my head above water,” Ms. Chung said. What she couldn’t have known is how many Asian families were already paying attention.
One of those families was the Lius, who moved from China to Ohio in 1989. Connie Liu’s mother, Bing Han, who had been a nurse in China, ended up working at Panda Express and Four Seasons hotels as a housekeeper. Ms. Liu, 28, relayed what her mother had recently told her about when it came time to name her daughter: “I wanted you to be known,” her mother said, at a time when “a lot of Asian females were not known.” “She was like, ‘I want to find the most ambitious person around and name my child after them,’” Ms. Liu said. “For an Asian female, that was basically only Connie Chung.”
Another family, the Chungs (no relation to the news anchor), immigrated from South Korea to Arizona in the early ’80s and worked odd jobs to get by. Connie Chung, 37, told me her parents didn’t speak a lot of English at home, and didn’t know a lot of American names. When they were naming their daughter, they looked to TV for inspiration, and zeroed in on the woman who had just joined NBC as an anchor for several primetime specials. “This is a name we know with a face we recognize that looks like us,” Ms. Chung said of her parents’ thinking. “And our kid is going to be American, and hopefully achieve things like this woman did."
Connie Chung Joe was born in 1977, making her, at 45, one of the oldest of the Connies I interviewed for this article. At the time, the original Connie Chung had left her job at CBS and had returned to local news stations to gain more anchor experience. She was working in Los Angeles, a big market, but was not yet a household name. Even so, she “was the success story,” said Ms. Joe.
Ms. Joe was given the name Connie by her mom, one of a handful of women to graduate from her medical school in South Korea. Ms. Joe’s mother “came from a world where she didn’t feel like she could have the same level of success and power” as a woman, her daughter told me. But America might be different, her mom thought. People saw Connie Chung every night on TV; she was famous, and popular. She’d made it.
There was an additional appeal to the name: Many of the Mandarin-speaking Connies I spoke to pointed out that the Mandarin for “healthy girl” — 康妮 “kang ni” — sounds an awful lot like Connie. I heard similar stories from Cantonese speakers and, in one case, from a daughter of Vietnamese immigrants. The readily pronounceable “Connie'' sat at the center of a Venn diagram of extended families back home and new classmates, teachers and peers in America; it was a bridge that helped ease the transition to a new home.
Connie Chung, 34, and her mother, May Ho.
Ms. Ho said she found
Connie Chung’s story
“inspiring” and wanted
“our daughter to be just as
successful as she is.”
Connie Liu, 28, and her mother, Bing Han.
Ms. Han said she named
her daughter Connie “because
I also wanted her to be
famous and outstanding.”
Connie Wu, 29, and her mother, Min Xu.
Ms. Xu said she and her
husband chose the name
Connie because it was
easy to pronounce. “Also,
we watched TV,” she said.
“We saw Connie.”
My own family’s first stop in America was the Midwest: specifically, the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, where my father was studying as part of the first wave of Chinese students who were allowed to leave mainland China to earn advanced degrees.
During my father’s second year, while my mother was visiting, he attended a protest on campus in solidarity with the students congregating in Tiananmen Square. When a photo from the protest ran in The Lincoln Star, someone anonymously informed my father’s parents back in Qingdao of what their son was up to — an ambiguous threat that indicated my family was being watched. And so, along with so many other Chinese grad students studying in the United States, my parents took advantage of a fast-track green card offer in response to what in China is euphemistically called the “June 4 Incident.” What was supposed to be a stint in America turned into a permanent move for my parents, who were highly educated, politically shaken and, apparently, stuck.
After earning his Ph.D., my father found work in his field, as an engineer at tech companies. My mother eventually became an accountant, organizing numbers instead of words into sense. Her resentment at having to do this was matched only by her insistence that I should never have to. She pressured me to achieve in school, like other Chinese mothers I knew, but she gave me the freedom to head in any direction as long as I could be good at it, and useful. The other girls in my classes at weekend Chinese school, whose names were split between the popular names of the 1980s (Jessica, Amy, Jennifer) or the phonetic spellings of their Chinese names (Meng, Qian, Yun), marveled at the latitude I enjoyed.
The story of Generation Connie is a small slice of the story of Asian immigration to the United States, much of which is not unique to us. Changes to immigration law in 1965 brought a wave of ambitious and relatively fortunate families to this country who then had to find new footholds, often in majority-white communities. Their American-born children were all raised with the dreams, worries and aspirations that form out of profound culture shock.
But the names these parents gave their children represented so many different approaches to handling this shock: holding on, letting go, diving in, reaching out for a lifeline. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all the Connies I spoke to describe their mothers in similar terms: as leaders, brave, athletic, creative, successful, idealistic, capable. These moms were architects, editors and medical professionals, who’d often had to abandon their careers and reinvent themselves upon moving to a new country, who looked at the television and saw how things might be different for their daughters.
I obviously understood none of this when I inked the name Connie onto the paper Social Security card I got when my family became permanent residents. But today, when I look at my own name, I see every footnote.
In early 2020, while working on a memoir, I cold-emailed Connie Chung. To my surprise, she responded. During our first phone conversation, she was sharp, hilarious and down to earth. She excused herself to get a cocktail from her husband (Maury!), and regaled me with stories about her short-lived talk show “Weekends With Maury and Connie,” which she had closed out by singing an off-key torch song (the only video I could find of it on YouTube is titled “Connie Chung has lost it”). She was working on some new projects, taking care of family members, and, obviously, paying close attention to the news (had I heard about this Covid thing?).
“It’s so nice to meet another Connie,” she told me toward the end of our call. But didn’t you know? I responded. There are so many of us out here. Named after you. “You’re kidding,” she said. “No way.”
“When you first told me about this phenomenon, I was flabbergasted,” Ms. Chung said when we talked again this spring. “I was truly floored.” I told her what dozens of Connies had told me: that they were proud of being associated with Ms. Chung, that they were grateful that they always knew there was a Connie who had gone first.
Connie Chung, CBS News reporter, at age 25.
I shared with Ms. Chung what Connie Chung — the one from Arizona — had told me, about how other children used to make fun of her name when she was growing up. “As a kid, that just made me want to die inside,” she said. When the Arizona Ms. Chung married, she was eager to take her husband’s last name. “I was like, ‘I'm not going to be Connie Chung anymore!’”
But as time passed, she found herself thinking differently about what her parents were trying to do when they named her. “I’ve thought a lot about it,” she said, “and what it would be like for me to immigrate to a completely new country and have all these thoughts and ideas about what my life would be like and achieving the American dream and the hopes that I would have for my kids.” A year later, she changed her name back.
Ms. Chung — the original — grew quiet. “I think what I’m about to say is very Chinese, but I saw myself as a worker bee who was trying to survive in a business that was very brutal,” she said. She’d never thought about how she was being seen by others: “I was just clawing my way through a lot of hazing, and sexual and racial reactions to my existence. I was clueless, really. I couldn’t imagine what anyone was perceiving as a viewer, or if anyone noticed.”
I’ve long had a fraught relationship with the idea of representation. Seeing ourselves — or rather, the wealthiest, best resourced, most assimilated among us — on magazine covers and television screens is the smallest symbol of our status as Americans, and comes with its own forms of exclusion and bigotry. When headlines celebrating Asian American films with Asian American casts run next to articles about Asian American disenfranchisement and poverty, representation can feel particularly empty.
I know all that — but I also know its power: how a single person can become a vehicle for so many others' most personal hopes; how they can find, in her, a sense of belonging that’s otherwise in short supply.
A few weeks later, as part of a photo shoot for this article, The New York Times invited Connie Chung into a studio with 10 other Connies named after her. The group went out to dinner afterward. I couldn’t make the cross-country flight in time to attend, and it wasn’t until after the session was over, and I listened to the recordings of the day, that it became clear what an emotional moment we had inadvertently engineered.
Connie Chung, center, surrounded by 10 members of Generation Connie. Clockwise from top right, Connie Yang, Connie Tang, Connie Moy, Connie Sun, Connie Chang, Connie Kwok, Connie Huang, Connie Jang, Connie Wang and Connie Koh.
Ms. Chung went around shaking hands. The Connies took turns sharing their stories — how their parents came to America, what life was like when they were born, and how their mothers found comfort in Ms. Chung’s presence on TV. Connie Sun, 42, talked about how her mom tried meticulously to recreate Ms. Chung's hairstyle, and how she gave her daughter the name Connie partly as a gesture of hope that she would speak perfect English — because “she didn't know that that was like an automatic thing if you're born here, right?”
When it was her turn, Connie Koh told Ms. Chung how she, not her parents, chose the name Connie. “From your crib?” Ms. Chung said, joking. “How did you do that?” The room laughed, but by then Ms. Koh, 35, had started to tear up. She explained she’d picked the name after college, when she decided she needed an American name in addition to her Korean name, Keon Yeong. “You’re an iconic person,” she told Ms. Chung, who had also grown teary.
Ms. Koh told me later that she became emotional because she remembered how, when she chose her name, she was desperate to be able to stand up for herself as Ms. Chung had throughout her career. “Meeting Connie Chung felt like a miracle,” Ms. Koh wrote to me in an email.
At the photo shoot, the photographer, Connie Aramaki, 46, told Ms. Chung that she’d originally thought her parents had chosen the name Connie because they wanted their daughter to become a journalist like Ms. Chung. Now, she’d come to appreciate what they actually intended: “What it means is your parents want you to work hard, and be brave, and take chances."
Ms. Chung’s voice, normally clear and confident, was barely audible on the tape I’d been sent: “I did do that,” she said quietly, and I felt something unfasten in my chest.
America today looks very different from when Connie Chung was born, or even when my family immigrated. Young Asian Americans may never experience the same type of loneliness that Ms. Chung did, or the longing that my mother harbored for the assurance that things might be okay, that her daughters would have a fighting chance in ways that she had given up on for herself.
None of this is enough to declare victory; the hurdles remain so high for so many. But it is a small triumph that I can now imagine my child looking back with curiosity on the days when a single news anchor could matter so, so much.
Connie Wang is the author of "Oh My Mother! A Memoir in Nine Adventures."
Photos of Connie Chung from CBS Photo Archive, via Getty Images.
Additional reporting by Tenzin Tsagong.
Audio by Katie McMurran, Vishakha Darbha and Sonia Herrero.
Produced by Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer, Jacqueline Bates, Jessia Ma, Ana Becker and
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