My “coffee name” is Sarah. Though I suppose it’s more like an “ordering food or drink” name because I’m one of those weird specimens who doesn’t drink coffee. Sarah is an easy name to pronounce, and an easy name to spell. It’s also, technically, my middle and English name – but calling me by that name usually ensues in a strong talking-to or a slap (depending how well I know the person). Sarah is not my name.
My parents enrolled me in school under my Chinese name, and that’s just been that. Teachers and children alike learned to say my name (it’s really not that hard to pronounce anyway), but it almost always took a bit of guiding. I didn’t mind, and I still don’t mind. It’s important to me that people are able to pronounce my name properly, and so I am more than happy to facilitate that process.
It’s the questions and the reactions afterwards (or during) this period of introduction that I take considerable issue with. I’ve worked in a variety of industries – ranging from hospitality and retail to administration and call centre work, and here is a list of responses to my name that I have received in all of these positions:
When introducing myself to new people, there are additional responses to choose from:
At first glance, these questions or statements may seem all right, or even a little humorous. They’re not. Especially after you’ve basically heard them your whole life. Especially if the person ejecting these words from their mouth thinks they’re the funniest person for having thought of a pun on your name. Especially if the person asking these questions tries to turn the blame back on you for being too easily offended.
I was born in Australia. I speak English with an Australian accent. Not one of those accents with the incredibly broad vowels, but it is Australian nonetheless. And yet, I was genuinely surprised the first time I heard my name called out correctly from a roll or a form. I was seven, and I was in grade three. My high school principal called me “Ren-Yong” at an awards ceremony, which is arguably more difficult to say than my real name. A boy on Tinder told me I was being too uptight about my name, and that names didn’t really matter anyway.
Like many things, it’s difficult to understand the importance of something that seems as innocuous as a name unless you’ve experienced these effects yourself. I’m sure there are many who would see all of this as a waste of time and energy, and that I should devote myself to more pressing issues. But when it comes down to it, at least for me, it’s a matter of respect. And being able to pronounce my name properly without putting any extra caveats to make it easier for yourself (not that it’s hard in the first place) is, I think, one of the simplest ways to show such respect.
I love my name. I love what it means, and I love that I get to carry around that little bit of my heritage around with me. I love that it rhymes, and I love that my mother put in a ridiculous amount of effort in choosing it (and linking it to my sister’s). I love my name despite the grief it puts me through, and I honestly can’t imagine being called anything else. Sarah may be my coffee name, but it is not my real name. And I guess the world is just going to have to deal with that.
Yen-Rong Wong is a Malaysian-Chinese-Australian Honours student at the University of Queensland. She is interested in South-East-Asian-Australian women’s writing, as well as postcolonial and Gothic literature. Her work has been published in Semper Floreat and Brain Mill Press, and is included in the inaugural edition of The Regal Fox. She is obsessed with tea, homewares, and spends too much time trying to make sure her cat doesn’t destroy her couch. You can find her on her website and on Twitter.