What Made Awkwafina Famous? Details About Her Real Name, Parents, and Rapper Past May Surprise You

Biography facts about actress, rapper, and comedian, Awkwafina that obsessed fans need to know.

Whether you know her from her controversial rap past (we recommend you watch her 2012 “My Vag” music video), as the spunky Peik Lin Goh in 2018’s smash hit Crazy Rich Asians, or for her history-making 2020 Golden Globe win for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy, it’s no doubt that Awkwafina‘s career has been on the up for the last several years.

Not only did the actress also appear in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, aka the MCU’s first Asian-led superhero movie, but the second season of her hit sitcom, Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens, recently premiered on Comedy Central. She’s killing it.

And though Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens is loosely based on Awkwafina’s real upbringing, it barely scratches the surface of her little-known past. Though the hilarious characters represent real people in her life, the details surrounding Awkwafina’s parents, early childhood memories, and overall origin story are cloudy. We doubt you even know Awkwafina’s real name.

Cast and Creators of 'Awkwafina is Nora From Queens'
Cast and Creators of ‘Awkwafina is Nora From Queens’

What is Awkwafina’s real name?

It’s common knowledge that the comedic rapper-turned-actress’s stage name is a play on the bottled water brand Aquafina, but her birth name is another story. As her sitcom suggests, her name is Nora Lum. The La Guardia alum didn’t think her silly stage name would take off when she and a friend thought it up at age 15, but here we are.

But before she was officially hailed Awkwafina, Nora Lum grew up in Forest Hills, a residential neighborhood in Queens, N.Y. Though the now-34-year-old grew up with her father by her side, she was soon left without a mother.

Awkwafina had a complex and emotional upbringing with her parents and paternal grandmother.

Sadly, Awkwafina lost her Korean mother, Tia, at just 4 years old to pulmonary hypertension. “My earliest memories of my mom are from when she was already sick,” Awkwafina wrote for People.

“I remember her a lot through her food. She used to feed me a lot of Korean food, and I remember her really caring about that, caring about what I brought to lunch in my lunch box.” Awkwafina’s connection to her late mother through food is still vibrant today. “She used to feed me tteok, rice cakes. Years later when I’d eat them, I’d cry because I’d remember her,” she continued.

Awkwafina’s Chinese father, Wally, raised her as a single dad alongside his own mother, Powah, who packed up and moved to Queens to help raise her granddaughter. Growing up, Powah acted as Awkwafina’s maternal figure, exuding the same spunkiness and eccentricity as her grandbaby.

“I remember seeing my grandma as someone who was saving me,” she gushed. “She’s snarky; she enjoys a good joke. Nothing was ever too dirty for her.” So that’s where she gets it from!

Awkwafina seems to admire her Grandma Powah for a slew of reasons, including her willingness to break down outdated, harmful stereotypes. “Whenever people talked about Asian women being these docile, subservient creatures, my grandma just blew all that out of the water.” Go Powah!

And though Awkwafina’s relationship with her paternal grandmother made her feel whole, growing up without a mother greatly affected her. More specifically, she wrote that it made her feel like “this fixture of sorrow.”

Being swallowed by some orb of sadness just wasn’t Awkwafina’s style, as she never allowed people to feel sorry for her. Rather, she’d do anything to make the people in her life laugh. “I think all the time, what would I have been doing if my mom hadn’t passed? I don’t think I’d be here, because I think that I had to face a certain level of trauma to be so joyously self-deprecating and so free,” she wrote.

Awkwafina at The 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards Post-Party

As for her relationship with her dad, well, they seem to be close. Awkwafina even dedicated her 2020 Golden Globe, which she won for her powerful performance in The Farewell, to her old man.

“I’d like to dedicate this to my dad, Wally. I told you I’d get a job, Dad,” she hilariously stated in her acceptance speech. Did we mention she was fired from her 9-to-5 publicity assistant gig after her “My Vag” music video went viral? Oops.

We’re sure Papa Wally and Grandma Powah can’t wait to see what their successful Nora does next.

What made Awkwafina famous?

The actress, comedian, and rapper doesn’t just occasionally appear in a blockbuster film—most days it seems like she’s in all of them. She hardly had any prominent roles under her belt when joining the all-star cast of Ocean’s 8, led by Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett, but turned right around and played Rachel Chu’s hilarious best friend Peik Lin in Crazy Rich Asians.

She won a Golden Globe Award for an emotional performance in The Farewell and lent her voice to popular kids’ movies like The Angry Birds Movie 2 and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run.

The actress then starred alongside Dwayne Johnson and Jack Black in Jumanji: The Next Level, voiced a funny dragon in Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon, and is now blowing up all over again for her starring role in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. She did all of this while releasing rap singles and acting in a variety of television shows including one she wrote herself, Nora from Queens. Awakwafina is also playing the role of Scuttle the seagull in Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of The Little Mermaid.

Awkwafina is clearly a force to be reckoned with, and with ten upcoming projects in development, she won’t be leaving our screens anytime soon. Her career has been a dream come true for her, but has it always been so seemingly easy?

Awkwafina, whose real name is Nora Lum, started rapping when she was 13 and went on to study trumpet, classical music, and jazz at the famed LaGuardia High School. When she was 16, she decided to adopt the alter ego Awkwafina, which gave her more confidence than she had as just “Nora.” Part of the reason she changed her name was that her mother passed away when she was four, marking a tragic moment in her young life. To help her family work through the grief, Lum turned to comedy.

She majored in journalism in college but never lost sight of her performing ambitions. As she started sharing rap singles like “My Vag” and “Yellow Ranger” on YouTube, fans began to recognize Lum by her stage name. As her online popularity grew, Lum/Awkwafina soon appeared on the MTV comedy show Girl Code and went on to become a co-host on Girl Code Live and the host of the online web series Tawk. 

She then landed her first film role in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, followed by a voiceover role in the animated family film Storks. Her acting career took off after she joined the cast of Ocean’s 8, which launched her as a bona fide comedic talent who could hold her own alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest names.

Awkwafina is now a household name and is best known for her goofy comedic timing and instantly recognizable voice. Her working relationship with companies like Disney and Marvel has landed her roles in some of the biggest films in Hollywood. Now that she’s about to become a recurring character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s likely that Awkwafina’s star will be on the rise for many years to come.

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