Call Me Steven

It wasn’t that long ago when my boss at work had respectfully recommended that I use an easier to pronounce name when cold calling.

Me: “My name’s [Insert non-traditional western name here], so that’s probably what I’ll use.”

Him: “Well, I don’t mean anything by it, but I have a feeling that receptionists in Kansas might not be as receptive to your name. Do you think you can go by something easier to say?”

For a very long time, I have had a Caucasian name. I was Steven for those who couldn’t say my name (even though it was two syllables).

My first encounter with Steven was in a Tae Kwon Doe after school program, where a pale third grader told me, a fragile second grader, that he could not possibly pronounce my name and would rather just call me Steven. I shrugged, not giving it much thought.

It came back around in high school when another, similarly pale kid, decided that my name was too tough to put the effort in for. So again, I was Steven.

For a short period there, I LIKED Steven more than I liked my real name. After all, no one struggled with Steven. No one butchered the name or turned it into some mimicked mockery. Steven rolled off their tongues as easily as “terrorist” had. But it was much less hurtful.

A lot of children with difficult to pronounce names have a level of subconscious discontent. I’ve known many kids growing up ask their parents why they couldn’t have been named “normal” names. Like Joe. Or Jim. Or Mark. Or Sam. Why would you name me something that all the kids could make fun of?

It took me a while to learn to love my name, to love the culture and language behind it. It took me a while to move past my Caucasian moniker. After all, who gave a fuck if they couldn’t say my name? If they can say Euripides and Caravaggio, then they can learn to say mine.

But being told to use Steven at work 100 times a day brings back some painful memories. And my boss was right, Cindy from Tennessee was not receptive when I used to introduce myself with my real name. I had to repeat myself six times before it clicked.

No one should have to hide behind an “accepted” moniker. Similarly, no one should feel so entitled that they can request another person to change their name and identity. I say, love your name and the culture from which it was born. I’ll be taking my own advice, and putting my foot down on how I will be introducing myself at work.

Finally, here’s a really funny video by SungWon Cho, AKA ProZD


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