Me, Myself, and I: My Thoughts on Having Two Names

Do you remember when you were little? Did you ever go through a phase where you hated your name? When you were playing house during recess you would always make your friends call you by some other name that you liked more. People joke sometimes that they would have loved to have named themselves, and then they chuckle because that doesn't happen. Unless you're me.

Let me clarify: I immigrated to the United States in 2001, and I was around 6 years old then. I had just one name then: Minji. My parents liked to tell me that they named me after some cute little girl on a Korean sitcom they used to watch. I never really gave names any kind of thought –  after all, I was just a kid. But when we moved to the US, my parents decided that I needed another name. They were told that Minji would be too foreign sounding to the tongue, that I would be teased, that other children could be cruel. At my grandmother's urging, I chose a name – Cindy. I actually don't remember how I decided on it, maybe it was a derivative of Cinderella, maybe I had heard it on some TV show somewhere. I sometimes joke that I'm super grateful to six-year-old me for having some common sense and not choosing a name like Bubbles or Sprinkles. 

As the years went by, I grew further and further away from Minji. Minji was what my parents called me at home. Minji was who my extended family back in Korea would address their Christmas cards to. I was Cindy to all of my friends, to my teachers, to anyone else I met. Growing up, no one would ever know that I was also Minji unless it came up on some legal documentation somewhere. Maybe this was because everything that my parents were told ended up being somewhat correct: in elementary school, our gym teacher read my name aloud while taking roll. My real name. I remember a girl in my class laughing to herself at how "funny it sounded." A funny story that I tell sometimes involves a lady at the front office butchering my name, blaring "Munchkin" over the school loudspeaker and embarrassing the hell out of me in the process. So, before I started college, if you were confused, I would have wholeheartedly encouraged you to call me Cindy.

Like I said, though, college changed things. Suddenly, I wasn't in my small hometown anymore. I was surrounded by people of all backgrounds, and suddenly Minji didn't seem as silly. I recall speaking with my professor one day after class and telling her that she could call me Cindy, since it was easier to pronounce. She replied with, "But why would I call you anything but your name?" Good point, teach. Let me just say that I'm not trying to bash either of my names by any means. I started to feel that during a huge chunk of my seventeen years in the US, I had been hiding my cultural identity behind Cindy. I had convinced myself that being "American" meant that I could not also be Korean, that I needed to be "American enough" to belong here.

As it turns out, that isn't the case. It would be silly to say that I didn't belong here, especially since I had spent the majority of my life in the United States. It would also be silly to suggest that I was not Korean because I lived here. Cindy was my shield growing up. She helped me to start my life fresh when I got here, and made it fun, as if I were just playing pretend for a while. I can't ever bring myself to resent the "Cindy" part of me, who stuck with me through my awkward teens, and even my first year of awkward adulthood.

However, I do have a whole new appreciation for Minji. I didn't truly get a chance to embrace my birth name for everything it was until I was older, and in a sense, allowing people to call me Minji and Cindy interchangeably has marked a new point in my life. No matter how much I try to avoid being "too Asian," Asian is always something that I will be (I mean, look at me). Learning to love yourself goes beyond just loving your body; it's about embracing everything that defines you. 

And besides, what's in a name?