What’s in a Name?


Did I tell you about the time when I had to make the decision of whether to keep my Chinese name or take an English name?

It was around 2004 or 2005, when I was about to become a U.S. citizen. I was 13 or 14 and on the application, it asked if I want to change my name. I wanted to change my name because too many people mispronounce my name, even the teachers had trouble saying my name. On the first day of class, when the teacher takes the attendance, they always hesitate at my name.

meditation-rocks-960x400I began to pick names. I wanted to pick a name that’s closely resemble with the meaning of my Chinese name which means “fog in the mountains” but unless I want to be called Fog or Mountains, there was none. My top picks ended up being Carol because it sounds smart and April because it reminds me of spring, green, and zen. I thought those were typical and pretty. My mom didn’t like the name Carol because one of her best friend’s name is Carol and she said it would be confusing. I tried April, changing the name people will see when they receive my email to April and tried to practice signing April. Believe me, it felt strange and very unnatural, as though I was taking on a whole new identity. The name didn’t feel like me.

My mom suggested the name Catalina as in the island not far from the California coast. She thought it was an unique name. I thought it was CatalinaIslandWestSpanish and yes, it was unique. So I tried on the name, the same way I tried on the name April. This name felt more like me. Ah, Catalina. Still, though I couldn’t see myself with that name, not with my last name attached to it anyway.

The day had at last arrived, the day of my naturalization. That afternoon, my mom and I sat among some 3,000 other individuals at Staples Center listening to a variety of country-loving songs and then standing in lines receiving our naturalization certificates. When it was my turn, the person at the table once again asked if I wanted to change my name.

wp-1467586050328.jpegFor a literal minute, I stared at the naturalization certificate, trying to make the decision of whether or not to change my name. It was like I was being bounced back and forth between two sides: for or against. My head hurt like I was a computer that’s going to overheat any minute and burn out. I couldn’t make a decision, not when I had all the time in the world and certainly not when that blank space was staring me right in the eyes. “No,” I said finally. I will keep my name, at least for now. The name Catalina just doesn’t fit me.

More than a decade later, I’m still wearing the name I’m given at birth. I have no regrets about keeping the name. I think it’s kind of cool and not just because its meaning but because I can dress it up in many ways. Besides, I’ve found that a lot of instructors have next to no trouble remembering who I am. I don’t know whether it’s because of my hard-to-pronounce name or the fact that I’m the smallest person in class or maybe I’m always the one on the attendance paper. Who knows. All that matters is I’m satisfy with it.

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31 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

  1. I had a classmate in a course for computer programming who was from Vietnam. Her name was Ngan. No one could pronounce it to her satisfaction. Several of us suggested she go by Nan instead. She resisted.

    I don’t know if she ever decided to change her name, but I suspect she didn’t receive many phone calls in response to her applications for jobs since I couldn’t imagine any prospective employer wanting to start out by not knowing how to ask for her by name on the telephone.

    Thankfully, I don’t imagine people having the same difficulty with yours. I’m glad you didn’t feel obliged to change it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it depends on the person. I’ve given up trying to correct people with the pronunciation of my name. As long as they’re within a 50% range, I’m happy like my boss calls me “England”, that’s pretty close. But yeah, I can absolutely see the trouble with the pronunciation of your Vietnamese classmate’s name. I don’t think I’d even know how to pronounce that. Thank you for reading.

      Like

  2. I like your name… beautiful image, too. And I think it’s nice to have a name with an associated meaning or image.

    I have one of those always mispronounced names as well. It means “Forever Beautiful Child.” My sister’s name means something like “10,000 IQ Child.” Wishful thinking, maybe. (-_^)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am glad you didn’t change your name, so now I also know its meaning. In my own language, names are somehow difficult to pronounce too, but Albanians as a culture, used to give children native names with a meaning. These last 20 years, we have become more “international”…. Call it globalization era… and to tell the truth I don’t really know if I like it or not.
    However, I loved your article!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, in the recent years, I’ve noticed a similar trend happening in China too, parents giving their children a Chinese name as well as an English name. Not sure why that’s necessary but I believe it may somehow relate to like you said, the globalization Era. Thank you for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I don’t think English names really suit Chinese people unless the name matches the meaning of the Chinese name. I have a friend whose Chinese name means joy and she ended with the English name, Joyce.

      Liked by 1 person

      • As a teacher I would rather call the student by their given name. If I dont know how to say my new student’s name I ask him/her how to pronounce it. I really do try to say it correctly. I write down a phoenetic spelling of it and I repeat it over and over in front of the student so he/she will correct me. I know I may still say it wrong, but I continue to try. There is nothing more personal than your name except maybe your handwriting. Im so glad you kept that piece of you!!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post. It made me think how hard would it be if we were to chose our names. I never thought what name would I like…( still thinking about options πŸ™‚ ) …I am glad you kept your name because it has a beatiful meanig. πŸ’–

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Although I don’t know how your name is pronounced, I think that it looks like a happy name. I think that it is good that you kept your birth name. It is who you are. I don’t know that any other one would ever feel right, you know?
    Have a blessed weekend. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

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