It originated as a Hindustani (originally Persian) loan-word borrowed by Malay speakers as a term of affection for one's grandparents, and became part of the common vernacular.
Female Straits-Chinese descendants were either called or styled themselves Nyonyas.
I also live in San Francisco, where it seems like I can never not see at least one interracial couple with the female being East Asian walking down Valencia Street.
Allow me to share some choice words that have been bestowed upon me or my fellow Asian American lady friends by men who were attracted to us: You get the idea.
Recently I was forwarded this op-ed piece and parody guide about dating for an Asian-American girl in the US.
And 5 months ago Mark Zuckerberg’s marriage with Priscilla Chan caused a storm of uniformed racist comments on the Internet.
Because Malays at that time had a tendency to address all foreign women (and perhaps those who appeared foreign) as nyonya, they used that term for Straits-Chinese women as well.
It gradually became more exclusively associated with them.
It is a loan word, borrowed from the old Portuguese word for lady donha (compare, for instance, Macanese creole nhonha spoken on Macau, which was a Portuguese colony for 464 years).
Most have lived for generations along the straits of Malacca.
They were usually traders, the middleman of the British and the Chinese, or the Chinese and Malays, or vice versa because they were mostly English educated.
from males who think my response would be immediate heart-pouring in an exotic language (This unrealistic fantasy is realized in the 2012 Fiat Superbowl Commercial).
I just expected Asian guys to know better than that, but that stereotype was proven wrong on my part.