Code-switching in the international student community causes internal dilemmas
“Which do you prefer, ‘Olivia’ or ‘Yushuo’?” a teacher asked me face-to-face.
I should have been used to this question after filling out so many Google forms asking for my preferred first name. However, this time there was someone looking me in the eye and asking me for an answer, and it took me several seconds to respond.
Unexpectedly, I ended up going with “Olivia”. I could feel the self-deception engulf me the moment the word left my mouth. A few seconds was just too short for me to think about the matter, and I hate to keep people waiting.
So, is “Olivia” just a low hanging fruit for someone of a different race than mine, or is this an answer that actually satisfies me? And where is the place for “Yushuo”, my first name? I didn’t really find myself thinking about these questions and finding a coherent answer before writing this article. My interpretation of the phrase “preferred name” is unclear – I missed the chance to dig it up because I dismissed the question.
Too often I go by “Olivia” for the convenience of others, especially professors who prefer to do roll call. It’s not that I don’t like teaching them to pronounce my Chinese name – it’s just weird, and maybe the weirdness comes from within.
Imagine me sitting in a classroom, hearing the teacher call everyone’s name without a hitch. I’m ready. Ready for a “uh” or even a full stop when it comes to mine.
“Yushoo? Yuosho? »
Should I say “yes” or correct the pronunciation? I hear two voices debating in my head. I find myself with “Olivia” while the whole class looks at me, and I guess their thoughts: “What is this awkward pronunciation? »
How I wish I could be like the other students and rephrase my first name, correct syllable stress or go by a nickname. But I can not ! Even though the pronunciation sounds similar, tone is still important: flat and oblique tones in Chinese. It’s “Yûshuò” to be precise.
I will always remember how someone made my eyes cloudy by texting me, “Happy Birthday Yushuo!!!!” It’s a sugar cube.
All my sheepish experiences only make my name weigh more heavily on me. Although I did not like it because of the mismatch between its childish meaning and my real personality, I find myself writing it with passion, even pride, in front of my foreign friends to whom I send Chinese postcards or craftsmanship. I resist changing my Gmail name to “Olivia Wang,” and I often write two names on homework.
These actions do not stem from wanting to show that I have two names. Instead, it comes down to where I come from and who I am.
Like many other Chinese children, I got my first name from my grandmother sitting on a stool – wearing her reading glasses – leafing through a thick Chinese dictionary and looking for a word to define me. The second character of my 3-word name has remained the same as my older cousins.
As I become an adult, I seem to compare my first name less and less to other people’s names. I know how my name was given to me by an older generation, how thrilled and delighted they were when they had the chance to chart a bright future for a new child.
Does all this mean that I don’t like “Olivia”? Absolutely not! I like it when people greet me warmly and out loud, saying, “Hey, Olivia! How are you doing ? but I don’t know my English name like I know my first name.
Now I’m kinda thankful for those Google Forms. It’s out of respect, not tradition, to ask others for preferred first names and pronouns. In my opinion, the word “preferred” means mutual understanding, and we always have a lot to learn from each other. For me, “preferred” allows me to represent myself in class circles or friends but also to hold back and let others speak.
Maybe that’s why my name is “Olivia” and why I like people who feel comfortable pronouncing it. But I will always remember how someone made my eyes cloudy by texting me, “Happy Birthday Yushuo!!!!” It’s a sugar cube.