Daily Prompt: “It’s Pohlin, sounds like Poland but pronounced po-LIN… just call me Po”

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, Polin” 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.

My Chinese eyes and fair hair.

My Chinese eyes and fair hair.

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.

How very 90's ~ Me at 18 months.

How very 90’s ~ Me at 3 years. (*whoops I was a bit out on my first guess)

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.”

Chinese, really?

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?


14 thoughts on “Daily Prompt: “It’s Pohlin, sounds like Poland but pronounced po-LIN… just call me Po”

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  10. Pohlin, I definitely get where you’re coming from. My its not my first name that gets the reactions, its my surname. My family are originally from Mauritius, but my surname is of South Indian (more specifically Telegoo origin) ‘Pottayya’ is only part of my surname too! I usually shorten it (its double barrel otherwise), just so that there’s less confusion. Its when I have to spell it out- “double ‘Y’? Really?” yea, I think I know how to spell my own name, I think to myself. I love my surname, but there are times that I also have doubts too especially when looking for work! My boyfriend and I have joked that if we got married and I took the surname ‘Wilson’, people would be shocked to see me turn up at an interview!

    • Haha I make the same joke with my partner telling him to take my surname (he’s very very white and subsequently I think Lau would be hilarious – he doesn’t agree!)

      I don’t know about you, but while I understand it’s not personal that they don’t know how to pronounce our names, a (very big) part of me wishes that I didn’t have to explain it EVERY time, sigh.

      And on a serious note, I’ve heard rumours from hiring managers that they’ll often reject a candidate based on how difficult it is for them to pronounce their name!

      • Hi again, no internet so late reply I’m afraid. Yes, I have heard about the employment situ. In fact, I’m certain there was an article on it in the Mail or the Mirror. A man applied for a job with Virgin Airlines under his african name and the application was rejected. He then reapplied for the same job with the same CV but simply changed the name at the top to ‘George Smith’ or something along those lines- he was then inundated with phone calls and emails to come to the interview!! Its sad that ignorance can prevent the right person from getting a job

      • No worries, moving is tough!

        It’s so sad! My mum and I were joking about what possible first name I could adopt for my CV (luckily my dad’s surname is Carter, and therefore easy peasy to match with). We looked through some baby name websites, trying to find anything that was similar to Pohlin! All we could come up with was Polly, Pauline, Peyton even at a stretch – but they just all seemed so… foreign to me, and a little old fashioned!

        I reaaaallly want to try using a Western name, but at the same time I’m so terrified of being in the interview and forgetting to reply when someone calls Polly Carter! Not a good first impression!

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