The name dilemma

I don’t know my name.

Well, it’s a little blurry, and it’s only going to get worse. When I immigrated to Canada, my parents transliterated my Korean name to Ji Ye. Terrible, terrible transliteration. It should have been Jee-Yeh. Then the pronunciation is indisputable. Being young and foolish, I begged for an English name that people could say, and spell correctly. Initially, my parents didn’t want me to give up my Korean heritage, so they refused. However, my mother realized that my difficult name could result in missed opportunities throughout my life, so she allowed me to choose an English name that started with the same letter as my Korean name. So I chose Janet. It was by no means a legal change, it was only a name that people called me, and all of my ID still shows my legal Korean name.

The only problem I ever ran into was having cheques written to Janet, when my bank accounts were under my legal name. I fixed that pretty easily by adding my common name to the account.

Now that I’ve gotten older, things are starting to get messy. The whole point of having an English name was so that people could easily say and remember my name. But at the same time, all of my university documents are under my legal name, so getting proper credit for my work is kind of a challenge.

When I publish papers, I want to get appropriate credit for it (hence using my legal name), but when I meet a potential networking contact, I want them to be able to associate my face and our interaction to my work (hence using my common name). So, what do I do?

Doing a legal name change might be the most proper thing to do. But you need to send the government an original birth certificate. Unfortunately, Koreans don’t have birth certificates. We are written into family registries, and I do believe that it’s quite an ordeal for me to get my hands on it. I figured I’d do it when I get married and change my name. But I’ve changed my mind about that.

I’ve always thought that I would assume my husband’s name when I get married, but I’m not so sure about that anymore. A lot of women are keeping their names nowadays, and it would reintroduce the problem of getting (or in this case, retaining) credit for my work pre-marriage. Anyway, I probably won’t end up with a Korean man, and my last name is one of the few ways people identify me as Korean vs. Chinese, which is very important to me.

So…yes, if I seem confused, that’s because I don’t really know my name. I guess that mean lecturer I had at Laurier was right after all…but that’s a whole other story.


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  • November 2010
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