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what’s my name…?

August 16, 2006

well, my name is spelled okkyung lee… it really should be spelled oak-kyoung lee or even oak-kyoung yi to be really authentic… in korean, last name lee is pronounced as yi but people use lee here just because it’s the same chinese character… and as you know bruce lee being the most famous person with that last name…
ok, i’m going to admit something i rarely rarely bring up… well, if i do it first then maybe i’ll feel less embarrassed…? hmm… then if i never bring it up then nobody will never know… what the hell…?
while preparing to move to boston to go to school, i enrolled at this ESL institute in seoul for about 6 months to work on conversational skills… the very first class i had was taught by this new canadian female teacher who literally had gotten to korea 2 weeks before the class began… so as the students started to introduce themselves to her, it was obvious that she was frustrated with korean names… they were just to foreign to her, i suppose… so after that she suggested that we all pick an english nickname… some picked silly ones like superman or mickey mouse or whatever, and some chose more normal(?) names like johnny or liz… i chose janice… the teacher even asked me weather “-s” or “-ce”… at the end and i chose “-ce”… don’t know why but it could be that i had heard that name somewhere but still wasn’t that common or at least i thought… so for the next 6 months i was using the name janice… finally after moving to boston with my name spelled as ok kyung lee on my passport, i ran into some problematic situations regarding my the pronunciation… how it was spelled was confusing people… some thought ok was my first name, kyung was my middle name… some didn’t know how to say “ok” and said it closer to “ak” with open o sound… most of times “kyung” became “kyoong”… so you can imagine me getting a bit annoyed trying to teach how to say name correctly each time… then when in the very first class of my harmony II course at berklee, the teacher just gave up after not even trying one time to say my name, she declared “i just cannot say this right, do you have a nickname or something?”… so as being a good obliging (yes, there were times like that in my life…) student that time i told her that she could call me “janice”… and it seemed to have solved problems for many many many people for the time being… so it was stuck with it until i finished that damn school… guess at first it had some sort of liberating effect on me too… you know, felt like a different person… i think i was more open and sociable than in high school for example… however when i heard other korean students calling me with my nickname, i felt a bit weirded out… but still it was ok… thought it was better than all chewed up pronunciation of my name…
however when I started to go to new england conservatory for my masters, the situation changed 180 degrees… the teachers absolutely reused to use my nickname… i think from the get-go, they were pretty good at saying my name correctly… then when i even mentioned that they could use my nickname if it was too troublesome, they thought i was out of my mind… so I went back to being ok kyung… but i decided to get rid of that useless space between and made it into okkyung…
even now after living in new york city, the biggest melting pot of the world for 6 years, i still get all different variations of my name… but i guess it bothers me less, well, at least for the most of time, since i am probably not saying everybody else’s name correctly… but now i have told you how to say my name… so if you run into me on the street, please don’t be afraid to say it out loud… if it’s really far off, i’ll teach you how to say my name… then you can teach me how to say your name… just please don’t make fun of my english nickname from the past…
if you want to know what my name means, that’s a whole different story…

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  1. Having lived in Boston for a couple years and being somewhat familiar with the two music institutions, I think your post speaks volumes regarding the difference between the two.

  2. glad you were able to read that as well… yes, indeed… the difference between those two were pretty significant… all i can say is that i am glad i went to NEC after berklee… otherwise my life would have been totally different…

  3. I actually changed the pronunciation of my name when I was in kindergarten because I couldn’t deal with people invariably spelling it wrong. They’re still bad, but at least they normally use a ‘z’ now. (They used to always spell it ‘Francie’, which I loath.)

  4. and you think your name is hard to pronunce? how bout mine? Chern Hwei? haha! yes, I know that feeling. but i NEVER tolerate with people to give myself a western name, which is totally ridiculous. because WE always learn to speak western languages and call western names, doesn’t mean that we should go get a western name ourselves, we should let the westerners to learn our names, no matter how hard it is, i don’t care. after all, we have more variety in our names comparing to western names, always the same few names. i even started to teach my friends to call me “Fung Chern Hwei” instead of “Chern Hwei Fung”, i told them i don’t wanna misplace my butt and my head, haha! so, Yi Ok Kyung, let’s make them learn slowly. they will learn, one day, how to not look at our names like how they look at western names. (i hate people calling me “chern” as well! it’s not my middle name!!)

  5. alrighty, chern hwei… next time please teach me how to say your name right… i’m sure also it’s important to get the inflection right, right…?hope you’re having a great summer… mine went by so fast…!and franzi doesn’t seem so difficult to get it right… hmm… some people are just lazy…

  6. this is a great post. I know all to well about name pronounciation issues!!!!xoMatana

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