And yes, it is my first name. Not my middle name. My first, given name. So is ‘Yi Jia’. Because that’s my Chinese name. And ‘Loo’ is my last name but it is written before the first name in my culture. But yeah, they are ALL written in my birth certificate. Including ‘Valerie’. Because my parents gave me that name, at birth, and registered that as my name.
*warning: long rant post ahead*
So when I first moved to America and started college at ASU, I was on an A2 diplomatic Visa due to my dad’s job. And when I applied to ASU, I had my name written down as ‘Valerie Loo’. Because, well, that is my name. And no one questioned it. People called me ‘Valerie’ perfectly fine. I got the occasional ‘Vanessa’ and ‘Victoria’ or some other 3-syllabled V name from some people but other than that, it was all fine. Life was great. But when my father was posted back to Singapore, I had to switch my Visa status to an F1 International Student Visa. And with that, all hell broke loose. Ok that was a tad bit dramatic, but you get the point. To switch my Visas, I was called in to the college’s International Students and Scholars Center where I was greeted by a white man who was going to be my advisor for the Visa switching process. And for some reason, he insisted on calling me ‘Yi Jia’, which he obviously could NOT, for the love of god, pronounce, even though my documents clearly stated the name ‘Valerie’, right beside it (I was also constantly pointing it out, so it’s not like he couldn’t read it or anything). It was as though, now that I was officially, on paper, an ‘International Student’, a foreigner, I had to be identified by the part of my name that was most foreign to him. He then went into the school system and changed my name to ‘Loo Yi Jia’, and my first name, ‘Valerie’, was nowhere in sight. Of course, he didn’t just do it. As he went into the system to change my name, he said, as I recall very clearly, word for word, “oh no, we can’t have you in the system as ‘Valerie’ anymore, we need to put your real name in there. You’re a foreigner and you need to use your Asian name.” And that, was one of the most racist, ignorant things that anyone has ever said to me in my face, especially by a school official who works in an office that swears to aid international students in America. But, hurt feelings aside, by changing my name in the system, and by not including ‘Valerie’ in it, my academic life in ASU was full of issues. Professors and TAs started to get so confused about who I was and who they should give my grades to. When I started working at school, people didn’t know who to deliver my paycheck to. Friends and classmates didn’t understand who they were working with. And whenever I filled out something that I wanted someone to print or read out, I had to specifically explain how to read or say my name, and beg them to include ‘Valerie’ in it for the sake of being recognized by my peers and school faculty. Furthermore, this does not just happen once in awhile or just when I’m handling official business. It happens all the time. Daily. On campus, off campus. At work, at play. At the DMV. When I meet someone new. And I’m honestly quite sick of it. My name is ‘Loo Yi Jia Valerie’, whether you like it or not.
But Valerie, you’re Chinese! You were born in Singapore, you can’t have an English/American name, you must’ve given it to yourself! Ok, first things first. For the hundredth time, the name Valerie, is recorded on my birth certificate. I must’ve been a hella smart baby to have been able to pop out of my mom’s womb and pronounce myself as ‘Valerie’, so my parents could have it registered! Second of all, in Singapore, ENGLISH is our first language. And if English is what we primarily speak now in Singapore, then naturally I think some kids, if not most, would have some sort of an English name. Is it that hard to believe? And lastly, so what if I gave myself the name ‘Valerie’. That’s what I identify myself as! That’s what I respond to, and I sure as hell prefer it a lot more if you call me ‘Valerie’ than hear you try so hard to pronounce ‘Yi Jia’ only to end up butchering it like crazy. I also sure as hell prefer to actually know you’re trying to get my attention, rather than, for example, sit in the lobby of an office unaware that my turn to speak to an advisor is here because I didn’t understand the receptionist shouting “Yi…. YI” at the top of her lungs.
But Valerie, your first name doesn’t even come first in your name, your last name does! Well, my family name, Loo, comes first in my name because that’s how my culture set it up. Just like how yours puts your family name at the back, mine puts it right at the front. And it’s really not my fault that someone decided to literally label and identify family names in your culture as the ‘last name’ because you put it at the back. Because in Singapore we tend to call it a ‘surname’, which works pretty well because it just automatically refers to your family name, which could be placed in any order and presented in any way in your name, according to your culture and family’s choice. And as for why my Chinese name comes before my English name? Well, traditionally Chinese names are written with the family name followed by the first name, and since my last name is technically a Chinese name/word, it just rolls off the tongue so much better and makes so much more sense to say all of my Chinese name together, before writing my first name! And honestly, I could write my name as ‘Valerie Loo Yi Jia’ instead of ‘Loo Yi Jia Valerie’, but my family name just matters a lot more to me okay? Again, it’s a cultural thing. So it’d be real cool if you could just try and understand it.
But Valerie, you can’t have two first names, you have to pick one! Ummm…. no. Why? Well, let’s see… I’m a Singaporean girl of Chinese descent who speaks and writes Chinese. I’m also a girl who grew up speaking and writing English fluently and has primarily lived in two English-speaking countries. That’s all part of who I am! Should I choose between just identifying with my Chinese heritage or with the fact that I was born into an English speaking household in an English speaking country? The answer is no. Because I identify with all of that. But honestly, even if I didn’t grow up speaking English or whatsoever, I can still have an English name and a Chinese name. Because that’s my identity in both languages. I’m not asking you to call me both at the same time, but just recognise that those are both my legal names and I want to be called Valerie, especially if that is what you can pronounce better. And I don’t want to feel like I have two separate identities. Right now, because my school refused to let me register ‘Valerie’ as part of my name, my friends and professors all call me Valerie, but when it comes to anything ‘official’, I’m ‘Loo Yi Jia’. And even the closest of friends don’t recognise that name when it’s called sometimes. Professors have given me zeros because they didn’t know that ‘Yi Jia’ was in class. Hell, even I don’t know that I’m being called on sometimes when I hear ‘Lu Yeee Chi? Cha? Yee cchee…A?’
And I know this isn’t a huge deal, but it really shows how much more we need to understand one another’s cultures, especially when you’re living in a country like America, in which tons of people who come from different cultures/backgrounds/religion/races/beliefs/identities live together. Being sensitive towards each other’s differences is important. And you can start doing so by just putting in the effort to understand something simple like someone’s name.
^^^ that’s me, sick of all this bs. Photo by Daniel Primero 📸.
Thank you so much for reading this, I really appreciate it. Till next time! And I promise the next one won’t be a rant. Have you ever been in a similar situation or have exprienced racism (done with intent or not) or any other form of oppression? Let’s talk in the comments below! Goodnight for now❤️.
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