What’s in a Name?

It’s the first day of school, and you know what that means. No, it’s not that I’m excited to

What am I? Confused between two names. Photo Courtesy to Ji Yun Ok

meet my friends. No, it’s not that I’m totally looking forward to my new classes. I’m worried for attendance. Here we go again. The teacher reads from the attendance list, alphabetically. The A’s pass, then the B’s, C’s, D’s, F’s, and E’s. It’s almost my turn. The teacher who was reading out the previous names with ease suddenly stops. She has a confused, almost conflicted expression on her face, as if as she already knows that she’s going to butcher this name. I let out an internal sigh as she starts to say my name. She tries to say my name, raising her tone at the end to show her uncertainty. “I go by Jennifer,” I say, and immediately I can see her face relax and smile. She moves on. Every year, on the first day of school this happens. I don’t know how to feel about this. I know it’s not the teacher’s fault. Rather, it’s just the fact that I’m using a different name at school for such a long time that this second name has become me. It raises the question whether students should change their name by having a second name in school, and is that even necessarily bad?

This phenomenon of a student having an extra English name has become more and more

Asch Experiment of Conformity. Source: Creative Commons

common throughout the years. There may be various reasons for this, and one could be that students could be following a trend. Psychological studies such as the Asch Experiment reveal that people are much more likely to conform to the majority, and this can apply to every decision that a person makes. However, upon questioning different students, it seems that this trend was just a result of a bigger reason.

The most influential reason why students made an English name was for the comfort of both the student and other people that the student interacts with. Some people might think that a person would use a common English name because they took their teachers and friends into consideration, but it is also for personal comfort. People don’t want to deal with other’s tendency to pronounce their names wrong. Senior Scott Huh describes how his legal name is “often hard to pronounce,” and that many people “screw it up,” acknowledging the fact that “no one screws up an English name because everyone knows how to pronounce it.” He, along with other students with a so-called “unfamiliar” name, don’t feel comfortable being in that embarrassing situation of correcting a person every time his/her name is called. To change their name at school actually presented a positive alternative in both their personal and school life.

It seems understandable that in an American curriculum based school, where a large majority of the student body has a familiar English name, some students might want to have an extra name to go by. However, some don’t agree and are rather glad that they didn’t opt for an English name. Senior Ji Yun Ok claims that she “felt like [her]self when people called [her] by [her] real Korean name,” saying that she felt most “real” when addressed by her real name. She also mentioned that there are downfalls to having an English name at school: “it would be a pain in the butt for official stuff like SAT and AP test if I had multiple names.”

There are both advantages and disadvantages for going by a different name at school. However, this phenomenon touches on a bigger idea: the sense of identity. How does having two names affect a person’s sense of identity? To some, a name can be seen as something trivial, just as something to refer a certain object a person. This is because, to some people, like Senior Ji Yun Ok, a name doesn’t play a “huge part,” because she believes that “personality and other big inner components constitute [her] identity than a label like a name.” However, to other people, a name means more than just a mere label, it plays a bigger part in a person’s identity. As Senior Scott Huh says, “it is definitely different because at home or with my close buds, since they call me by my Korean name a lot, I tend to be more real.”

Lisa Kim with her friend. Photo Courtesy to Taylor Buechel

While there might be discussions around whether this certain change in identity is trivial, Junior Lisa Kim brings up another opinion. To her, having an extra name does not change her identity because she is “both Lisa and Jeongsoo. Jeongsoo is my Korean name, and that’s where my tradition and heritage is at.” She acknowledges that there is no right and wrong to having an English name as both her Korean and English name have become her and thinks that this isn’t bad. “Lisa is just an easier way to call me so I don’t have any problems with that. Having an English name is neither good nor bad — it’s just a name.” Names play a part in a person’s sense of identity, even if the effect might seem small to some. It is up to each person to determine how much a name (or having an adopted extra name) should affect him or herself and choose their options accordingly.


Author: Jennifer Jung

Jennifer Jung is a senior this year, and it is her second year as a reporter for the Eye. Even though she is originally from Korea, she has been in Singapore since she was five. This is her 11th year at SAS. Some of her hobbies include reading, watching movies, hanging out with friends, as well as sleeping. She can be contacted at jung20163@sas.edu.sg.

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