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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20 thoughts on “My Name is Loo Yi Jia Valerie. Yes, Valerie is My Real Name.”
It’s good to see you’re finally blogging again, and about issues that matter too.
Hello! Thank you for writing this post. Coincidentally we both have the same english name and are both studying in the United States. I have met similar problems here in USA. I would think this country would show me more respect and freedom in whatever name I choose to identify with, but sadly no. I didn’t meet as much problems as you did, but I too am tired of having to repeat this explanation to a new acquaintance every other day. Thank you again for this post. I think it helps to know that someone else is as troubled as me about this issue.
I emphasise with you. Some people would insist putting a comma (,) between a person’s dialect name, before the Christian name if the Christian name was placed at the end. I had some arguments with those people too.
Btw the first language in Singapore is Malay.
The National/Native language of Singapore is Malay. But the First language (used in work and school) is English!
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The first language in singapore is english lah. Or you can call it singlish if you want.
We have 4 national languages. But English is our first language.
Wow I didn’t know americans were so racist. It’s common here in Australia for an asian to have an English name, even for international students.
the political and social climate here are just very different under trump. every thing is very polarised and binary (except gender identity). you’re with us or you’re not. and more than that, you’d be surprised how ignorant people our age group are. i find the profs not so but my peers do ask me “what do you speak in singapore?” and (this makes me laugh) “which part of singapore are you from?” is there any part of singapore they know anyway? literally all they know is that singapore banned chewing gum.
Similar thing happens in Australia but they’re more understanding and let you put in a ‘preferred’ name of the 3 given first names (eg Yi Jia Valerie = 3 names).
I sympathize with you I guess we all undergo a certain amount of discrimination, whether racial, social, economical et cetera et cetera~ But on the bright side, now that you know this problem exists you can definitely do something to improve your situation! I’m rooting for you on the matter!
This is being shared quite a bit on social by the way 🙂 Good read. I got the same issue with my name when I was studying in the states.
hey, i totally empathise with you. i’m at berklee in boston, which has a very high international student population, so while they only allow you to fill in your name in 3 separate boxes in that order – first name, mdidle name, last name – you are also asked to indicate your preferred name. suggest to your school admin to have this preferred name system. i don’t like how i’m forced to reorder my name but just to make sure all words are in there when i’m asked to fill it in as it appears in the passport, are there i use my chinese name (only one character, besides my family name) as my middle name.
that being said, i also didn’t like it when in singapore when only my chinese hanyu pinyin name was read off, because i have mine as english name, last name, then chinese name, in my birth cert and IDs. like, if we’re speaking english, use my english name. and for mandarin, my chinese name.
also, i feel a bit sad when some people just don’t make the effort to learn others’ chinese names (or whatever ethnic name) and only want to look for a quick english nickname.
my dad commented a very long time ago that this way that we order our names is a reflection of the difference in culture, being that chinese culture is more community-centred: family name first. in western culture, the sense of individuality and uniqueness is more important.
just some thoughts. but most of all, you have to not let it get to you. gotta rise above their moral mediocrity.
I feel you. I faced the same issues when I wanted to apply for my driver’s license. DMV told me I couldn’t because the names on my documents did not match (i.e. I-94, I-20, and passport). In the end, I had to make a trip down to USCIS to change my name on my I-94 and had to get one of the international student advisor to change my name on my I-20. I’ve learnt now, if I want to use my full name for legal documents, my given name or first name would be Chinese name English name. It does seem weird that your school would not let you register your English name if it’s in your passport! That kinda sucks.
It was similar for me when I went to Australia too except I was able to change my name to my first name + surname for my courses. Nevertheless, I still received emails from the school that’s part of my chinese name + surname
I faced a similar situation when I went to Australia except that I was able to change my name in the student portal to reflect my first name + surname but the emails I received were all half of my chinese name + surname
Yes! Same struggle for the last 2 years in Canada.
First name became Xiao (which they brutalized when trying to pronounce) instead of Xiao Jun.
Whenever I tried to use Valerie (same namesake 😊), I got met with “No it must be according to your passport” but because the comma is placed differently they couldn’t make head or tails with it.
It got too hard for them to figure out which was which and they would randomly choose whichever of the 4 they wanted to place as a First or Middle or Last name.
Legal situations were the worst. For my IELTS exam, eventhough I filled up the form right – the person processing it changed my entire name to my First. I was treated like an idiot because they couldn’t find my records and thought I was just another non-English speaking student who failed to understand basic instructions. And when they realised it was their fault… all forms of excuses came out.
Glad you wrote about it!
Hah try being a singaporean with an english name living in Korea. And it doesn’t help that I look korean. When you fill in official forms you can only fill in 3 syllables because all korean names are in 3 words. Last name followed by a 2 syllable first name. They literally have 3 boxes so there is no way that I can fit my English name there. So the only way is if I use my chinese name. So everyone thinks I am Chinese. When I say my English name, everyone always asks what’s my real name. So sick of this bs.
I think your “Rant” is totally acceptable. From other comments written about your blog, it appears that this is a common problem throughout the world. The fact that your name, the one you identify yourself by, the one that everyone recognises you by was changed in its order is going to have ramifications when you appear officially on any system. This, I can only imagine, takes up a fair amount of your time in explaining, correcting etc. An un-necessary pain! We should all be able to have any name we choose to use and be greeted as such where ever we go. Great blog BTW
I am also quite irritated by this fact because I have to deal with this on a daily basis too. It’s like when you introduced yourself as Gideon and they said, oh it’s too hard to pronounce it, it’s not a good name, etc..” You should be called by your chinese name because your are chinese by ethnicity. Like hello, so if my mother is Japanese, then how should I be called then?
At the end of the day, it’s quite common to have more than one name, especially if you have parents who are from 2 cultures. But If you are ok with being called either your English or Chinese name, then it’s alright.
People should call you by the name as per what you introduced yourself as, not what they think is convenient for them to call. It’s your basic right as a human being.