For many years, my name was King Kong.
People couldn’t pronounce my Korean name.
And although a few would actually try …
Many ended up saying King Kong, or some variation of it.
Thinking it was “cute”.
My mom told me to ignore it.
They didn’t mean to say my name wrong, she said.
They never knew any Koreans before …
They didn’t understand how to pronounce things.
My younger brother had it a little easier.
They would call him Ocean.
I remember thinking …
I would rather be called Ocean than King Kong.
And why is it so hard for people to say our names?
The English language has a lot of difficult words
to pronounce and spell but I had to learn them.
By the time I was ready to start junior high,
I decided to pick an “American” name.
I was tired of being teased by the kids,
And all the variations of King Kong.
So many of my friends had already
picked their “American” name.
Even as kids, we knew it would be easier
to be accepted that way.
We got tiny baby name books at the supermarket,
and looked through them, reading all the meanings.
Because I knew names matter.
They had history and meaning.
I picked Kimberly.
My younger brother picked Paul.
Kimberly had an unknown origin, but meant “leader”.
I didn’t know if I wanted to be a leader.
I just knew it would be unique in the Korean community
because Kim was a common last name.
During the 2020 presidential elections, several politicians willfully mocked Vice-President Kamala Harris’ first name, saying, “KAmala, KaMAla, mala-mala-mala or whatever.”
To some, it was funny, and easy to laugh about.
Just like people thought it was “cute” to call me King Kong,
they didn’t think it was a big deal.
But it’s not funny to disrespect and mock others.
It’s not funny to think our names don’t matter.
People say, it happens.
European names have been botched,
made less ethnic, and “easier” to pronounce too.
Just because it happens, it doesn’t mean it is something
we should accept as “right” or acceptable.
Pronouncing them correctly is a way we can all
recognize, respect and honor each other.
As leaders and professionals,
we may still have a hard time saying
other people’s names correctly.
Sometimes learning people’s names
and pronunciations can take practice.
The point I hope to make is, our names are worth knowing.
Don’t be afraid to ask someone how to pronounce it correctly.
And don’t be afraid to keep trying to get it right.
This simple conversation of asking, being curious, is appreciated.
My name is Kyung Ah.
To pronounce it,
you say the word “young”
add the “K” sound to it
say it as one syllable
and then add “Ahhhh”.
It’s distinctly a Korean name.
My uncle told me it means,
“Glory of the Heavens,
and Grace of the Earth.”
What is your birth name?
Is there a specific meaning behind it?
And when did you pick your “American” name