Chinese-American movie star Anna May Wong was born “Wong Liu Tsong” in Los Angeles in 1905.
Here’s what she had to say about her birth name in 1926:
I was named Wong Lew Song, which means Frosted Yellow Willows. A rather unusual name, isn’t it. Most Chinese children have names, which, interpreted into English, sound rather attractive, though they wouldn’t do for everyday use. They are all right in poetry, but I wouldn’t want to be called Frosted Yellow Willows by my acquaintances. It sounds altogether too quaint for a modern Chinese girl.
Here’s what she had to say about her American name and her stage name in 1928:
I was educated in Los Angeles. […] Our family did not live in the Chinese quarter but on Figueroa Street, where our neighbors were Americans and we were called by our English names. The doctor who brought me into the world named me ‘Anna’; my Chinese name is Tsong. When I was old enough to begin to think about a career, I added ‘May’ to ‘Anna,’ partly because we [daughters] all had four-letter names and I wanted to be different, and partly because it made a prettier signature.
(Her siblings’ American names were Lulu, James, Mary, Frank, Roger, and Richard.)
And, finally, here’s something funny I spotted in a newspaper about the 1924 movie Thief of Bagdad, which featured Wong:
The Mongol slave, a part that required emotional subtlety and balance, was played by Anna May Wong, a Chinese girl, educated in America. Her Chinese name is Lew Wong Song [sic], and means two yellow willows. When the picture was being filmed Miss Wong almost walked out on her job because an enthusiastic press agent misunderstood the translation of her name and published it as “two yelling widows.”
I saw several versions of this “two yelling widows” story, but never managed to track down the press agent’s original mis-translation.
- Tildesley, Alice L. “I Am Lucky That I Am Chinese.” Honolulu Advertiser 10 Jun. 1928: 21.
- “‘Thief of Bagdad’ Includes in Cast Nearly All Races.” Oakland Tribune 29 Oct. 1924: 26.
- Wong, Anna May. “The True Life Story of a Chinese Girl.” Pictures Aug. 1926: 108.