Every year of middle school, I would get to class early the first day of school and hand my teacher a note which said, “My legal name is Zhiyi Wang, but please call me Angelina.” The next day, I would give them a follow-up note as a reminder, just to ensure that I didn’t end up having to explain, in front of the class, how to pronounce my name or why it is what it is.
Because I was born in Shanghai, there was no option to include an English name on my birth certificate, but my parents named me Angelina when I was born. When we moved to California when I was 2 years old, no one except my parents called me by my Chinese name. The past 19 years have involved constantly explaining the reason behind my English name, having my Chinese name butchered by teachers, and dealing with classmates who constantly forced me to teach them how to pronounce it.
While I understand that people who ask me to say my Chinese name or teach them to pronounce it are simply curious about my heritage and have no ill intentions, it’s simply not something I want to share with everyone, just like some people prefer to keep their middle names to themselves. I don’t mind sharing my experiences as an immigrant, an Asian-American growing up in California, or the complicated experience of going back to China, but pushing me to pronounce Zhiyi is not the only way to start a conversation about the nuances of growing up between two cultures.
Though I used to take further measures to ensure my classmates didn’t find out about my Chinese name, I’ve slowly become less sensitive to it in high school and college. It still irritates me when people don’t take no for an answer and put their curiosity above my desire to keep certain things for myself and my family, but I no longer feel as uncomfortable when I see it on my dorm room door or on an attendance sheet. I am glad to have had these experiences because it makes me more aware of the different ways culture and personal identity both clash and mix together because of my two first names.
I’ve lived in the U.S. for 15 years, and I’ve finally received both my citizenship and my name change. For both my parents and I, it has been such a long, convoluted process, between all the paperwork and waiting.
I have even more paperwork waiting for me, as my full legal name is now Angelina Zhiyi Wang, and I have to contact the university, my bank, the DMV, and basically everything else my name is on. But once I finish all the forms, I know it’ll be worth it– and I’m definitely not changing my last name ever.