The Girl with Many Names

I have a dilemma. And this dilemma is one that I have created all in my head. In the grand scheme of things it’s not an issue. However, this decision, in some sort of odd way, defines me.

From the moment I was born to the moment I left China I already had numerous names. I was called something by my birth parents, something by the farmers who found me, something by my caretaker, and something by the orphanage. These names are lost in the history of my life, buried deep in the memories of those who I probably will never meet.

Now, I finally have a name that is written down, four in fact. And this is where my brain started over-thinking things.

My mother named me and chose the order of my names. She also decided to call me by the name the orphanage gave me instead of my American first name. As a child I didn’t think much of it. At school they called me by my Chinese name. All the way through high school people called me by my Chinese name and for the most part people embraced it and me.

Throughout these many years, I have had dozens of nick names, none of which I really mind. I actually like some of them or perhaps it is the sense of belonging and friendship I associate with the nick name. However, for all these years I have had to explain to people how to pronounce and spell my name. My name is not even that difficult to pronounce, it’s just that it’s different. People also could never seem to spell my name correctly. Now, to make things even more fun, the orphanage wrote my name wrong. They didn’t put a space between the two words, which means my name has a capital letter in the middle of it. I didn’t really start thinking about all the things “wrong” with my name until I got to high school. This was the point I decided to go by first name because then I wouldn’t have to explain my name. It would be simple. But at that point all my peers called me by my Chinese name. So only a few teachers called me by my first name.

Then I graduated and was off to college.  I decided this was the time to start fresh. I would just go by my first name. And I’m pretty sure that life was mocking me, because people still didn’t get my name right. I am not a Jessica! I am Jessie. Quite a few people used the two interchangeably. Also, since Jessie has multiple different spellings, my name was misspelled a few times. This was just the minor stuff though. After being affectionately called one name for fourteen years, the name Jessie just didn’t settle with me. I felt as if I was an impostor. I wasn’t being true to myself. It felt oddly disconcerting when people called me Jessie. I no longer had a name that was unique; I had a name that was rather average and too close to the name Jessica.

When I returned home from college, life resumed to FuChai.

And here’s where the dilemma showed its ugly head. Most people in America have a simple American name. I have this idea of what would happen if I were to become well-known? What name would I want to be known by? What name do I want written down in the history books? Well Jessie sounds professional. If I were a telemarketer I would go by the name Jessie because I could avoid the question to repeat my name. If I go by a name that is common, then I don’t have to deal with all the questions. So, I’ve thought to myself, well for business purposes I’ll just go by my first name. But then I got to thinking, what if in the future I go by Jessie and my friends at work start to mesh with my personal life. Then everyone is going to be thoroughly confused as to what to call me.

Okay, I’ll just suck it up and deal with all the conversations and proudly go by FuChai. Inevitably, I keep going back and forth as to what to do because I’ll watch the news and all these people have good ol’ American names. I’ll listen to the radio, no strange names there. Then I’ll change my mind again when I hear names from other countries.

And after much thinking this summer, I think I know why I am so conflicted. FuChai is not really a Chinese name. In China, I would need a last name because Chinese go by their last name first and first name last. Additionally, FuChai is actually pronounced fú cái in Chinese (not to mention it’s a guy’s name). When Chinese come to America, they go by some made up American name, because it’s too hard for Americans to remember or pronounce their name. But, here I am doing the opposite, going by a Chinese name with an American accent. In some respects I don’t feel like this is an appropriate name because I don’t feel Chinese.  I am  American, and Americans have good American names, so I should use my American name. When I travel to other countries, won’t those people expect me to have an American name? Won’t that make international relations easier? Won’t people have an easier time pronouncing it…?

“My name is FuChai.”

“Well what’s your real name?”

“That is my real name. I don’t have a fake name, but my American name is Jessie.”

I’ve thought about writing this post for sometime, but I didn’t feel I had an appropriate answer to “what name am I going to use?” Now I do. I have a unique situation that i should embrace. I can choose what name I want to use and for what circumstance. Not everyone is as lucky as me to have four real names.

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3 thoughts on “The Girl with Many Names

  1. Good for you! By the way, as I listen to National Public Radio, I hear more and more names that are not “simple American names.” I know that you do have a pretty unique situation with your name, but I think more and more, Americans are learning to deal with diverse names.

  2. Yeah, the whole name thing is interesting. It does provide an interesting sense of who we are. Yours certainly does in all it’s derivations. There is a whole sort of defining history there, and yes that history and story is unique. I’ve often speculated on that fame angle thing as well. You could be both famous and incognito. Anyway FP, I suppose we all think of you in our own special ways.

  3. Well, unique situation. I remember when you were a pre-schooler you toyed with the name thing. Your chose two people who could call you Jessie. Everyone else had to call you FuChai. Soon you decided to return to FuChai. Each one of your names is a “real American Name”. Mostly because you are a real American. I you want one of your names to be your identity, that is for you to choose. Personally, I think you are most fortunate to have those lovely names, for they are uniquely yours. The name Betz gives us some of the same issues of explanation. I have learned to say Betz and then promptly spell it. Saves time and keeps others from wondering if it is Betz or Betts. I have even had people write Betty because they did not think they understood what I said.

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