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.
I 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 Spanish 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.
For 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.