My name is pretty common, easy to pronounce. Ji Hye means wisdom and it was a popular name in the year I was born. At least in Korea, anyway.
I came to the States when I was 13. Within a month, my aunt took me to a local high school and enrolled me. At the end of that meeting, the school’s ESL teacher suggested that I take an English name. For convenience sake. Since my name Ji Hye starts with J, a bunch of adults decided to scrap “Ji Hye” and call me “Jennifer”. I was at that school for exactly 4 month and I refused to answer to “Jennifer”. Once I transferred to a different school, I stuck by my actual name but was rudely mocked for it. Here are some variations:
Kimmie: My last name is Kim. I don’t know who Kimmie is.
Jai Hai: I don’t think so.
Gee Hi Joe: Brilliant.
Once a kid named Charlie called me Ji and I barked at him that my name is not Ji just as his name is not Char. In retrospect, maybe I over reacted. It is spelled weird.
Anyway, the name saga continued as I went through high school and college with bunch of people who couldn’t bother to learn how to pronounce my name correctly. When I worked summer jobs working as a server at Friendly’s restaurant or as a pedicurist at my mom’s nail salon, I went by a fake English name “Jaime”.
The girl at Friendly’s: “Hey, what’s your name?”
Me: “Hi! What’s yours?”
The girl: “Jaime.”
Me: “Oh my, that’s mine too!”
I’ll admit I was a bit lazy. One convenient false name is just as good as another. It was just easier that way, rather than repeating myself over and over trying to teach people how to pronounce my name correctly when I knew it didn’t matter, to them or to me.
Even when I found a real job after college, I went by my last name Kim. I worked at that job for 3 years, then at a sister company for 2, all the while going by Kim. I was on the phone a lot and didn’t want to bother. It was just more convenient.
So that is roughly 15 years of lost identity through missed pronunciation, less than instinctively spelled name, desire for convenience and a bit of carelessness and resignation. That is a long time not to be called by your name. Of course my family and friends called me the correct name, but that’s only half your identity isn’t it? In my private life, I was Ji Hye but in my public life I was called whatever that was convenient at the time.
The time I decided to work for Zingerman’s was the first time I felt that I had a choice in my career. Other times I worked for money, for a green card, for what was available and met my immediate needs. When I was hired by the Deli, I decided that I will go by my name. Remarkably everyone made an effort to learn my name and such a small thing means a world to me.
So what’s in a name, anyway? Just my identity, really. I can’t speak for Kristen but I know that so much of our project has to do with reclaiming my identity.
You, those of you who read this tedious entry having nothing to do with noodles or food or restaurant business, may have noticed that our microsite name has changed from noodle shop to san street. San Street is our working name. San means three in many Asian languages, generally perceived as a lucky number, and street implies street food. We’ve been calling ourselves Noodle Shop for a while, for convenience sake. It no longer fully reflects what we want to do. While nothing is yet set in stone, at least San Street is closer to our vision than Noodle Shop and that’s what we’re going with until we find our name.
(We will continue to accept name suggestions! What we want in a name is to immediately evoke what we do–full flavored and traditionally made Asian street food in a casual and comfortable setting. We do not want a specific regional cuisine or a specific dish, as in “noodle shop”, to box us in. Let us know if you think of anything.)