“Hi! What’s your name?”
In that moment, international students are often internally conflicted, trying to search for an appropriate answer to such a basic question; who knew introducing our own names would be this tricky. Should we say our real names and trip people up? Or should we give in to the pressure of accommodating standard English pronunciations? In that moment, we have to choose our identity.
It is a dilemma that many of us international students encounter during our years in the US. Because we come from different backgrounds and speak different languages, our names, as a result, reflect those variances and often times fall out of English regularity, and even the English alphabet. In our brains, we have to do a bit of extra work when introducing ourselves, constantly having to decide between our original names and the English versions of them. Part of us wants to seek acknowledgment of how we are called in our mother tongues, but the other part just settles for quick assimilation and American-friendly sounds – in short, it’s a mental tug of war between staying true to ourselves and inventing other selves.
Adopting American names is a go-to solution to preempt the hassle of teaching people how to correctly enunciate our names. In addition, since international names tend to sound gender-neutral to the American bunch, there is sometimes difficulty in addressing international students. Hence the need for some of us to have American names. Languages like Chinese and Vietnamese are even harder for English speakers as they require tonal vocalization. I have seen my friends go from Dung (pronounced as Dzung) to Austin, from Hoa to Selena, from Jianyu to Andrew, so on and so forth, in order to feel more accepted and to avoid the disappointment that comes with people’s lack of effort to get their actual names right. Hoa once shared that as soon as she became Selena, her life became so much easier; her confidence skyrocketed and most importantly, her name was remembered, as Selena.
While choosing American names works for some, I have been with An through thick and thin. This monosyllabic name was bestowed on me by my parents; An carries pain, happiness, love, and hopes. Even though I am rather dubious about the correlation, if there is any, between names and personalities, I do think that one’s identity is constructed around one’s name, for that name calls to mind a face, a personality, a conversation, or a memory whenever you hear or see it. There would be no me without the name An. This is the reason why I want to stick with An and to be remembered as An – An is my identity.
In maintaining the name that I was born with, I have had to patiently teach people how to pronounce it, even if it requires them to do some intense throat clearing and jaw stretching. In that process, people’s genuine attempt, curiosity, and appreciation of my name constantly motivate me to go An (On – a common mispronunciation of my name); many friendships have been made, conversations sparked, and names remembered. Just with a little extra time and effort, mastering pronunciation of other people’s names doesn’t have to be impossible.
“Hi! What’s your name?”
For me, it has always been: “Hi! My name is An.”
Click the left hand corner of the audio bar to listen to the correct pronunciation of An’s name.
Like this topic? Join us to continue the conversation!
What’s Your Name Film Project
Wednesday, October 21st
5:30pm-7pm JWW 203
The International Writers’ Blog is producing a video on names. Does your name have special meaning? Has it been mispronounced often? Do you use an American name instead of your actual one? This video project is based on the post, “What’s your name?” by An Truong ’17. Come share your name story in the IWB’s video production. Filming will only take about 10 minutes per person but an RSVP is required.