When I was a little girl, I told my mother to change my middle name. She said, “Okay, we’ll call you Emily Jean after your aunt.” This brought a great, obnoxious relief for me.
At the time, I was attending a (primarily) white, Evangelical Christian school. Around the age of 8, my classmates started asking each other questions simply out of curiosity, as many 8 years olds do. My least favorite question — but of course the most common one — was, “What’s your middle name?”
I would bashfully, anxiously say, “Chih-ming,” each time.
And I would get a “Chih-ming?!” every time…
My classmates never heard of such a name or even realized that some people even had non-American names in the United States. In the mindset of an 8 year old, since fitting in with the group was everything, I felt embarrassed being stuck with a name like “Chih-ming” and did whatever it took to change it… even if it meant getting my mom to tell people my middle name was “Jean” instead.
Being called “Emily Jean,” however, didn’t change the fact of me being half Chinese, or give me the ability to become full white overnight by any means. If anything, being “Emily Jean” gave a free pass to hide my heritage as a Chinese-American and mask to the world that I was “white” and could thus fit in with my fair skin, brunette hair, and petite figure.
I went on for almost 10 years with that “Emily Jean” mindset.
But I’m not Emily Jean anymore. My name is Emily Chih-ming Jay. “Chih-ming” is Cantonese for “wisdom” and “enlightenment.” I may not act the wisest and I would not say I have achieved enlightenment at all, but these are promises I live to fulfill for my parents. “Chih-ming” is not only a beautiful name, but works as a reminder of the two values I should prioritize and live my life by. Reclaiming “Emily Chih-ming” helps me demonstrate myself as a proud Chinese-American, and just the person I seek to become.
Watch me grow (as a 20 year old) in both wisdom and enlightenment through this blog. Comment and/or contact me anytime. Peace and love, folks.