Shows like Fresh Off the Boat served a dual purpose. Their primary goal, of course, was to entertain, but they were also educational in their own ways. Each series offered glimpses into aspects of the communities they respectively represented that a lot of people might not otherwise have had. One episode of Fresh Off the Boat even took a look at something as seemingly innocuous as names.
Loosely based on the autobiography of Chef Eddie Huang, Fresh Off the Boat told the story of the Huang family moving from Washington, D.C. to Orlando, Florida. Louis and Jessica were immigrants from Taiwan who met in the United States and were raising a family in Washington’s Chinatown. The decision to move to Orlando was purely a business one as Louis had opened a restaurant there. But there were some big drawbacks to this choice.
The Huangs of Orlando
When the Huangs left Washington behind, they also left their community. There wasn’t a huge Tawainese-American community in Orlando at that point. The Huangs found friends and built their own circle of support. Still, it was hard to replace the cultural aspect of their lives that they left behind. This reality was a running theme throughout the series.
One aspect of the immigrant experience Fresh Off the Boat discussed was incredibly insightful and more than a little surprising to anyone who hasn’t gone through it. In Season 2, Episode 20, Evan Huang was opening his first bank account so that the family could get a free toaster. Evan being Evan, he was incredibly excited about the opportunity. That being said, he was left with the decision of whether he should use his Chinese or his American name.
Fresh Off the Boat Showed That a Name Is More Than Just a Name
For any viewers who did not share this experience, this episode may have come as a surprise. It discussed how Asian names are often difficult for Americans to pronounce. To help them assimilate quicker, many Asian immigrants from different parts of the world will select American names. Every single member of the Huang family had a traditional Chinese name but went by their chosen American names.
Louis and Jessica both told the stories of how they selected their American names. In Louis’s case, he stole his name and large parts of his personality from a guy who worked at an aquarium. Jessica was forced into it. She didn’t want to, but she ran into a lot of problems trying to use her Chinese name. Jenny Huang, Louis’s mother, chose her name at random to get a library card and borrow a huge stack of Garfield books she had no intention of returning.
In the end, the episode never revealed which name Evan chose for his account. He didn’t even tell Jessica. But the episode did highlight a key part of the immigrant experience that many people had never really thought about before. A name can be incredibly powerful. Having to give up one to fit in a new country and culture is a huge deal, something Fresh Off the Boat put a spotlight on.