All seniors at Williams are required to submit a recording of how to pronounce his or her name for graduation. Although this seems like an easy task that can take just a minute to complete, I have yet to submit it for my own personal dilemmas.
As a child, I always wanted to go by an English name because I felt that my Korean name set me apart from everybody else, and everybody knows that kids don’t fare well being the outsider. The foreignness of my name made it easy for others to label or identify me as “other” without even getting to know who I was. Thus, my relationship with my name has been a site of shame and identity crisis. Was I my name? Was my name me? So I wanted to adopt a new “normal” and palatable names, like Julia or Abbey, but frankly, it never caught on, partly because I didn’t strictly enforce it and because my friends and community already knew me as Yang. As the years went by, I began to feel less resentment towards my name and more appreciation for and pride in my heritage.
It didn’t help that teachers throughout my life have pronounced my name wrong and that classmates would rhyme my (first and last) name with not-so-great things. Sure, I played it off as being funny at the time, but the fact that I can still recall these instances tells me that it was more than just fun and games; it was actually a traumatic experience, a form of comical, verbal violence that I never processed or even thought about until I got the email requesting me to pronounce my name.
So, how do I pronounce my name? Do I go with the anglicized pronunciation by which my friends and professors know me? Do I use Korean pronunciation? Or a mixture of the two? Ultimately, I believe it all boils down to whom I dedicate my graduation from Williams. Obviously I recognize the hard work that I’ve put in to fully take advantage of what this institution has to offer and to obtain my degree, but the reason I’m here, to begin with, is my parents. If it weren’t for the sacrifices they made to get me where I am today, obtaining an education from a prestigious college like Williams probably wouldn’t have been a possibility. For that, I’m thankful for them every day, and I want them to feel pride when they hear their daughter’s name being called in June (which will happen regardless of the pronunciation). On the other hand, will my friends and professors even recognize that I am the one walking across the stage if the name being called doesn’t align with the name they are more familiar with? Does it even matter as long as my family and I know? Is this just another example of me prioritizing others before myself, even in the case of my own name? Alas, I am left with no answer to my questions and am more confused than when I started. Maybe I will ask my parents directly how they would like my name to be pronounced. Maybe I won’t submit a recording at all. I guess you’ll find out at the graduation ceremony.