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Names represent identities

One thing I have noticed on  campus is that some people go by two different names alternatively. As I used to go by my “picked up” English name, “Grace,” during my first year here and then reclaimed my Korean name as the one I chose to be called, I sincerely have gone through the irritation of when your name on the school system and the name you go by do not match, all the moments you have to clarify that you decided to reclaim your original name and proactively teach people how to pronounce it. 

I chose my English name “Grace” when I came here first for the sake of convenience, but second for the hopeful expectation that “easier to pronounce” names would help me adjust better to college life. However, living with a different name after having lived with an original name for a pretty long time comes along with a lot of confusion and requires you to actively do the mental work to familiarize yourself with your new chosen name. 

One of the things that bothered me was that I was not able to immediately respond to someone shouting my English name, “Grace,” on the street or in Lowry, because I was not used to it. When I became more aware of the fact that my name is such a significant piece of information about who I am, I got into the idea of how fundamental and deep the connections and attachments we have with our names are. In the same sense, one of the reasons I actively chose to go by my own original name was I did not really want to miss out on a connection with myself in my past life before Wooster. I want my life as “Juyoung” in South Korea before coming into Wooster to still be intact with my life at Wooster’s campus. Adopting a new name felt like creating a disconnect between who I had been for a while and who I am now at Wooster. In addition, I honestly liked the concepts that my name reflected, which was “bringing light into the world,” rather than what “Grace” means in a literal sense. 

I am honestly surprised at how many people choose to go by new names that they resonate with the most. Reclaiming an authentic name happened frequently among immigrant communities, which was very relatable on a personal level.  Moreover, a lot of transgender individuals also actively choose different names that better suit who they really are. Both going back to the original identity and choosing a new name helps them solidify their self-identity and also contributed to being respected and honored in social interaction. 

When I think about people’s names that are not classic American names or those names that do not intuitively hint its own pronunciation, there are Tchaikovsky, Dostoevsky and even Shakespeare. These names do not look like easy names and are actually surprisingly hard names to pronounce, but we still manage to pronounce their names and learn about their great achievements as writers and composers. I do believe that no one tries to mispronounce someone’s name, but I highly recommend people to choose the names they want to go by and also actively learn how to pronounce someone’s name and respect someone’s preferred pronouns.

Our names are markers of our identities, and they are the first aspect we are recognized by and exposed to the world. To have your name mispronounced again and again feels like disrespect. It’s technically a micro-aggression that ultimately becomes a macro-aggression. But we can empower ourselves by taking initiatives in engaging ourselves in teaching people how to pronounce our names and also actively learn to pronounce someone’s name despite its counterintuitive pronunciation.

It might feel awkward or uncomfortable to reclaim your original name after going by something else for a while or teaching someone how to pronounce your name, but if we repeatedly do this, we have a chance to be truly happy with how our names truly reflect who we are. I also personally know how good it feels when someone makes the effort to get my name right; I proactively do the same for others because I know now that it’s not just a simple name that you go by — it’s a core part of who you are as an individual and you deserve to be respected. 

Juyoung Ko, a Contributing Writer for the Voice, can be reached for comment at JKo20@wooster.edu.

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