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An English Name

Updated: Jul 10, 2023

An English name. I’m always met with surprised expressions when I tell someone I don’t have one. My mom likes to jump, telling them my name is Chinese. I hate that it has to be explained, like I did something wrong.

I didn’t choose a name when I started at an international school in first grade. My parents didn’t choose one for me either, like many other Chinese parents do for their kids. They thought I would pick one for myself. Somehow, I still haven’t gotten to that.

When I introduce myself in English, it’s always the same. I say, my name is Yawen. Some people don’t know how to react. They expect me to have a “normal” name, an English name. Stacy, Clara, Jenny. If a teacher says my name for the first time, it always ends in a question mark, followed by an apology.

In English, my name has no meaning. It is just two syllables, void of anything. It does not mean beautiful, nor hope, it does not connect to something special. I’m not named after a fallen hero, or a beloved relative that died. It sits strange on the tongue, like a fruit that hasn’t ripened yet. It sounds wrong and twisted, like a bad word. It shouldn’t be spoken, like a bad word.

In Chinese, my name means something interesting. The first word, ya, means elegance. My mom hoped that I would grow up a lady, someone who would be liked by everyone. The second word, wen, is written in two parts. The top, is the word for rain, the bottom, is the word for calm. Together, it symbolizes the rainbow after a storm. My mom says that they chose my name after I was born, when my dad saw a rainbow while driving.

When I tell my mom everyone in class has an English name except for me, she tells my Dad. Then my dad tells me to choose one for myself. Processing the thought of that, I wonder hard, should it be something similar to what I have, like Yasmin? Something easy, like Jen? My dad gives me a suggestion. He says, change it to Arwen. It sounds like your name. I try it out. It feels uncomfortable.

For days, I think hard. It feels like I search the entire universe for a name that sticks. But none of them do. Like outgrown clothes that are too small, they suffocate me. There’s always something that’s not right. The names belong to someone else, not me.

The subject of my name comes up again. My dad says, you should fit in with everyone else. I tell him that my friends don’t care, but he says it's for the future. You have some time before I choose one for you, he threatens. He doesn’t want me to be treated differently because of my name. I want to tell him that no other name fits me. I am not Mandy, Candy, or Stephanie. I want to stay myself, not a stolen identity. I want to stay like me, a girl that doesn’t have an English name.

by Yawen Yuan


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