For many years, my name was King Kong. People couldn’t pronounce my name. And although a few would actually try, many would end 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 had never met Koreans before and just didn’t know how to pronounce things.
My younger brother had it easier. They would call him Ocean. I remember thinking, “I would much rather be called Ocean than King Kong.” And why is it so hard for people to pronounce 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 for 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 that became my name. 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 and 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 a unique name in the Korean community because Kim was a common last name. I was the only Kimberly Kwon in Google searches for more than a decade.
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 did not 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. By “our” I mean people of color, immigrant names, especially in the United States. Because it is often the names of Asians, Hispanics, Blacks and other people of color that are mispronounced, mocked or dismissed.
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.
Names matter. Pronouncing them correctly is a way we can all recognize, respect and honor each other. Say her name. Her name is Kamala. Say the word “comma” and add “La”.
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?