YingYing Shang has wanted to change her name since she was 7 years old. She was teased to tears and made to feel “foreign” even when teachers and acquaintances had not intended to hurt her feelings.
It’s hard to imagine what it’s like to have a weird name until you have one. (That’s why it bothers me when “name experts,” like Pamela Redmond Satran and Aela Mass of Nameberry, recommend names likely to cause embarrassment, teasing and even bullying.) Here’s a quick glimpse of what YingYing went through and why she was so motivated to change her name:
“Having an ethnic name in America has its difficulties. Growing up, my given name, YingYing, was distorted in more ways than you can possibly imagine — sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. The simplest situations that necessitated introducing myself to a stranger would make me cringe in apprehension. I learned to anticipate the extended pause when a substitute teacher reached my name on the attendance list, and raise my hand preemptively to spare them the pain.
“Last name Shang? It’s YingYing. That’s YingYing, with two Is.”
The simplest tasks, from ordering a Starbucks to giving my name to a service attendant at the mall, were fraught with mishaps.
Even when my name was spelled and pronounced correctly, an ethnic name comes with the unshakable assumption of foreignness.
Despite being 17 and supposedly hardened to the cruelty of the world, there was still a particular sting when an anonymous commenter wrote snidely on one of my pieces, “There’s a grammar mistake, but good luck telling someone named YingYing Shang about an English error.”
I’m impressed by the name YingYing chose as her new “American” name, Eva. It’s an alternate form of Eve, a Hebrew name that means “life.” And it’s a short form of Evangelina, a Greek name that means “bearer of good news.” Maybe Eva noticed that girls’ names ending with an “a” are increasing in popularity and that Ava is currently the #5 most popular girl’s name. The long “e” vowel sound of Eva reminds her of the repeated long “e” vowel sounds of YingYing. So after thinking about changing her name for eleven years, I think Eva Shang made a wise choice in selecting her new “American” name.
I’m grateful to YingYing for sharing her story so we’ll be more empathetic when we meet people with awkward-sounding names they didn’t choose and I’m grateful to xoJane for publishing it.