This is what I have to go through every time I meet someone new.
Some days it’s easier, and people will remember the TV program – The Teletubbies – and understand Po, or perhaps find a more modern reference in Jack Black’s Kung Fu Panda.
Other days I might feel brave and introduce my full first name. “Pauline” they’ll guess, thinking I have an accent or they have misheard me. “No, Po–lin” I’ll gently correct them, with a slight air of impatience, yet forgiveness – it’s not their terrible name that’s making this so awkward. “Oh, Pollen, okay.”
My name is Poh Lin Lau. Pronounced POH LIN LAU. Poh, as in “Oh, I’ve forgotten my keys.” You think I’m kidding for needing to emphasis oh, but there have been many an interview where I have to endure being called Pholin (fo-lin). Or Poo-lin. Yes, over the years there have been too many Poo-lin’s, and much too much heartbreak on my end. (On a side note, I have to mention that the American interpretation of my name is by far the worst – Pearrrrl-lin)
Why, you are thinking, did my parents decide to name me so?
I was named in disappointment that I wasn’t born a boy. Just kidding, but I think judging my all possible baby names, my parents were pretty much planning for a boy. Oops, sorry! An all-things-Asia aficionado, my white father wanted to name me Little Dragon 小龍 (Xiaolong). As in of Bruce Lee (screen name) fame, Little Dragon. Imagine if I had to excuse my father’s martial arts obsession for the rest of my life, explaining Xiao Long at every introduction. No, instead I get just as much joy explaining my actual name.
Poh Lin 宝莲 means Precious Lotus. Pronounced Bǎo lián in Mandarin, it sounds far better than it’s Cantonese counterpart – Boh Ling. Really, bowling?
I know, it’s like they hate me.
Lastly, to go with my Chinese name, I was given my mother’s surname – Lau. Just to make things just that little more confusing.
Looking like an Asian baby, people would question whether I was really my father’s daughter, with my Chinese eyes and my Chinese name. As I grew older and more into my Western nose, and finally each day looking more like my father, I begun to feel, and look, far less suited to my very Asian name.
Joining a new school, company or anything that required me to give up my name beforehand, I was always met with shocked or confused looks as people tried to work out the connection between my name and face.
But now at the ripe old age of 22, I can’t really say I hate my name anymore. When I was younger, and often bullied for having a different name (how cliché), I think I hated my name. It stopped me from being, well, normal. I don’t think now that normal is something to strive for, but I do believe normal would mean for me that my name could be pronounced correctly the first time. There was a time I believed my name stopped me from getting a part-time job in my very white town (at the time). I still couldn’t tell you that I firmly believe it isn’t stopping me from getting a job right now!
But I don’t hate my name. I appreciate my heritage, and I’m proud of my family. But do I wish sometimes that I had at the very least an English nickname (like most Asians)? – defeatedly, yes.
But for now, I will keep introducing myself as “Pohlin, sounds like Poland, but pronounced po-LIN.”
Have you found yourself frustrated at what your parents named you? Or just wishing people were a little better at pronouncing your name? Or have you found that your name has held you back in life, from that job or making friends?