Evolution of my name?
Okay, so I got a request from my old high school friend Emily to write about the evolution of my name. I am not really sure what she means, but here goes.
These days, I’ve been going by Eugene Hwang, or 황유진 in Korean. This however is not my legal name.
My name on my birth certificate, passport, and anything else that is official is Eugene William Whong. My first name was cleverly chosen by my parents so that it would work in both Korean and English. Nevermind that 유진 in Korean is almost always a girl’s name. My mother says she named me after her uncle Eugene but had I been a girl, my name would have been Gina or 지나. My middle name is my grandfather’s first name.
So far, so good.
Now we have my family name… (I don’t use the term “last name” because in some societies, one’s family name comes first. I do use “first name” though.. weird.) While there is certainly no dispute between how it is rendered in Korean 황 or Chinese characters, 黄, there is dispute as to how this should be written in English. As far as I know, Chinese with the same name tend to use Huang or Wong, depending on which dialect they speak. Koreans tend to use Whang or Hwang. There actually are a few other Whongs out there, but they tend to be either my own family or Chinese or Vietnamese. To say the least, it’s a rare spelling.
Why didn’t your father just go with Whang or Hwang?
If you were to ask him, he’d say two things. At the time that he was just starting to really make breakthroughs in the English language, he learned that “wang” was slang for penis, and was bothered that “Whang” would be pronounced the same way by native English speakers, thus he’d basically be called Mr. Penis. He also didn’t really like “Hwang” for similar reasons, as he felt English speakers would get the vowel wrong. Also he wanted to differentiate himself from every other Hwang in the phone book. So he went with Whong.
Now this has created many problems for me. For one, I thought my own name was pronounced “Wong” up until about the 6th grade or so. My dad and brothers still go by this pronunciation, because honestly it’s annoying to correct people of the true pronunciation every time the name is mentioned.
Whenever we are on the phone with some company and have to give our name, we always have to reply.. “It’s Whong, W-H-O-N-G.” That still hasn’t stopped me from getting mail for Eugene Wong, but whatever.
When I was growing up people would constantly be asking me if I was Chinese. I thought it was due to stupid Americans thinking all Asians were Chinese, or that my name had an odd spelling which confused people. Later I found that the odd spelling was more a factor than stupid Americans was.
So, growing up, people would make fun of my name, calling me Eugenie Weenie Long Dong Whong. This stopped sometime in middle school, when people realized that calling me Long Dong Whong at that point would have actually been a compliment… I mean, what immature 7th grader wouldn’t like to be told by his peers that he was so well endowed?
As an aside, I remember once in the 3rd grade when we were studying the planets in science class, and the resident bully said Eugenie Weenie Long Dong Whong stuck his penis inside of Venus! Everyone laughed, and I smiled and said… thanks! This clearly shows that I was more intelligent than everyone else. The morons continued to say that I stuck my penis inside of Venus until we learned about Greek Mythology in the 6th grade, and they FINALLY got why I said thank you three years prior. So not only was I well endowed at such a young age, but I was also already shagging the goddess of love long before everyone else had even seen real boobs.
Anyway, I continued as Eugene Whong well into adulthood, and into college, continually correcting those who were close to me of my true pronunciation, but just dealing with the mispronunciation otherwise.
It was then that I began to study Japanese.
Japanese is an interesting language, with 3 different writing systems. There are Chinese characters which are used for most concepts like nouns and verb/adjective roots, Hiragana, which is used for verb and adjective endings, as well as for Japanese words which can’t be written in Chinese characters, and Katakana, which is used to emphasize something, or to denote that it is a loan word from a language other than Classical Chinese.
Foreign names are most often written in Katakana, with notable exceptions for Korean or Chinese names, which will be written in Chinese Characters.
(In both Korean and Japanese whenever a famous Chinese person is the subject of discussion, I have no idea who they are talking about, because I usually learned those people’s Chinese names through English. Example: Mao Zedong is Mo Takuto in Japanese and Mo Taekdong in Korean. With the prevalence of Hong Kong movies in both Korea and Japan, some easily recognizable names like Chow Yun Fat are rendered as totally different in Korean and Japanese. All this is due to different local pronunciation of the same Chinese Character.)
Anyhow, sorry for all the asides, I’ll try to stay on topic. As a Japanese 101 student, I had not yet really been introduced to Chinese Characters. I knew how to write my family name in them… okay “draw” would be a better word in this case, because I wasn’t at a level where I knew what I was doing or had any kind of stroke order ingrained. It was more like,… okay boxy thing here, windows, legs… etc.
So, I started using katakana, as it (at the very least) was required in class.
Now there is a set way for people with my family name to write in Katakana, and that is ファン “Fan”. I was ignorant of this fact, and decided to go with something that resembled Hwang, which in Korean is written with a sort of dipthong (am I using the right word?) where the “wa” sound is captured by writing ㅗ (o) before ㅏ(a). So I invented the spelling ホワン ”Howan”. (Note, there are no ng sounds in Japanese. Sometimes when foreign words with ng spellings are transliterated into Japanese, you’ll get the g represented by gu. “Running” for example would be rendered as ランニング(ra n ni n gu), but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes ngs are just left as ns.
It was later when I got to the 300 level of Japanese that I started to learn to write Chinese Characters. I knew how to write my family name, but I actually wasn’t sure at all how to write my given name. As it was one of the earliest characters I learned, I went with 友人 (friend). It seemed simple enough and had a good meaning. Then one of my Korean classmates laughed at me and told me that this couldn’t possibly be my name, as it has a totally different pronunciation in Korean. I asked my father how to write my name in Chinese Characters and he showed me, but the first character was too complicated and the second one didn’t exist in Japanese. I then decided that it’s my name, and I should be able to do whatever I want with it. It’s not like I’m going to ever use it on anything official anyway (boy was I wrong). I went with 有眞 (there is truth), and 有真 in Japanese.
I then moved to Japan, and this is where things really start to get confusing. One of the first things I had to do was to get an alien registration card. Naturally your passport name will appear on the card, but I also wanted my Chinese Characters on there, because I felt that it was essential to my identity for some reason. This took a lot of fighting with the clerk at the desk, because there wasn’t any documentation in my US passport of any Chinese Characters. I guess if one is persistent enough, they’ll let you have your way. To date and to my knowledge, I am the only American who has ever had a Chinese Character name on a Japanese alien registration card. Whenever I actually used this Chinese Character name, people who don’t know me would call me Ou-san, or Kou-san, as these are Japanese readings of 黄. Almost everyone would ask if I was Korean, and this makes sense, as Koreans are by far the largest minority population in Japan, and there must have been a lot of 黄s. After Korean, people would ask if I was Japanese (as some Japanese have really rare one character family names, and the characters for my first name 有真 could be either Yushin or Arimasa in Japanese… rare names, but not totally inexplicable.) and almost nobody asked if I was Chinese.
But here is where the fun starts. My bank account was registered using my Chinese Characters. My electric and gas bills were registered with my old katakana name. My cell phone was registered in Chinese Characters, but required that I as a foreigner write my name out in furigana (which would be katakana denoting the pronunciation of my Chinese Characters in this case, and I had started using the new spelling in katakana when I switched providers)… and phone bills would come addressed to a romanized version of this, because my provider found it simpler to address things to all its customers using the romanization of whatever their name was. (So a phone bill for 田中由一 would be addressed to “Yuichi Tanaka”). Also, different companies who were sending me mail for one reason or another were all very liberal with my name.
So, because of this, it seemed like 15 different people were living in my tiny apartment, when in reality, it was only me. Here is a list of names that I have received mail for (this is somewhat of a reprint from a similar livejournal article I wrote about this topic years earlier.)
Properly spelled names:
Eugene William Whong
here is where it gets interesting:
Whong Eugene William
Probably the funniest I’ve ever seen was junkmail addressed to a Mr. Eugene Yellow. Yellow afterall is the meaning of the Chinese Character for my family name. I can only imagine what was going on in the mind of who made the decision to render it as “yellow”. “Hmm, he has Chinese Characters, but is listed here as an American… so… he MUST be Mr. Yellow! Gosh I’m so smart!”
So how did you start to use Hwang instead of Whong?
That’s simple enough. If you recall, I mentioned that I thought that people in America kept asking me if I was Chinese or something because they were dumb and considered everything in Asia to be China. Well, I came to Korea for grad school in 2006, and I wasn’t allowed to register for school using hangul. (Though I am able to use hangul for some things, it appears that I have to use what is listed on my registration card for most things, and they don’t allow hangul on there for some reason.) Anyway, there I was in class with professors calling attendance “Mr. Wong? Mr. Wong?” And I had to always correct them and say “It’s Hwang!” One professor asked me why I use a Chinese spelling for my name. Another professor tried speaking to me in Chinese once, having assumed I was Chinese-American the whole semester. So I made a decision… If even Koreans in Korea were asking me if I was Chinese, then it was time to change the spelling. So every time I use my English name in Korea, I spell it Hwang. This has become much less of a factor since I’ve graduated, as there are fewer and fewer reasons to use an English name except for official purposes, in which case I am forced to use Whong, but for business cards, e-mail, and other things in the English language, I have been using “Eugene Hwang”.
So there you have it, the evolution of my many names.
On Korea’s policy of not allowing me to use hangul on official documents I have to say this:
I think that passports should be changed to allow people to register their spellings in other languages however they want to. Perhaps when a country issues you a visa, they can ask you how you’re going to spell your name in their alphabet (that is, if you wish to do that.) It would really streamline a whole lot, and I’d still feel like a complete person instead of a relegated other who’s not allowed to use the local language, which has been reserved for citizens only. I know this is a really minor issue, but still, there must be other people like me who hate that they aren’t allowed to write their name however they want to.