Copy That: What's in a name?

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Illustration by Hannah Myers

 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017 - 6:28pm

Among the unending items we fact-check, spell-check, grammar-check and style-check at the mighty copy desk are the names of University of Michigan officials, guest speakers, Ann Arbor residents and students. Names are easy. It takes a simple Google, LinkedIn or MCommunity search to make sure we publish people's names correctly. The Daily’s coverage at its core is about the people who fill this campus, city and state through their actions, opinions and — more explicitly — their quotes. My job is to check such names.

But every so often, typos and mix-ups compromise the correct identification of our subjects.

When you introduce yourself, you start by saying your name. Names last longer and reflect more of your identity than titles do.

One of my first middle school English assignments was to learn the origin stories of my name. That night I dove into the deeper meanings behind my names using Google and the fount of wisdom that is my mom.

My given middle name is Madeline, a hopeful moniker bestowed upon me by my mother who wanted to give me an out and an option for an easier life with an English name. Yes, I was named after Ludwig Bemelmans’s small, rambunctious redhead Parisian schoolgirl who needed an appendectomy. And yes, I own several hardcover volumes of the books.

After an evening of light research and questioning, I discovered that “So Jung” roughly means “foundation light,” and “Madeline” means “tall tower.” As a cheeky sixth-grader, I thought it ingenious to combine both meanings into one: lighthouse. Since completing that homework assignment, I have loved my name. Secretly, I hope it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy.

However, I firmly believe that living and trying to work with a Korean name in this diverse American society should not be as bothersome as it is. Most second-generation children of Asian immigrants have an American first name followed by an Asian middle name. Mine reverses the norm.

S-o space capital-J-u-n-g. Two words with no dash. I find it eternally frustrating that my driver’s license, voting record and Scantron test bubbles cannot reflect this fact.

I have tried embracing “Madeline.” During sophomore year of high school, I was sick of teachers, substitutes and coaches mispronouncing my name so I introduced myself as “Maddie.” The experiment only lasted one year.

My mom and I discuss the tradeoffs of authenticity, convenience, identity and assimilation nearly every time I come home from school. But I am stubborn. Could it be true that hiring managers or internship coordinators have passed me over because my résumé seems foreign? I naively pray that racism is just a conspiracy.

When strangers, friends or professionals decide that “So” or “Kim” suffice for their ease, I try to correct them politely, but internally I question if they respect me.

Since coming to college, simplicity and endearment have chipped away at my stubbornness. When I order food, I use my initials “SJ” or “SJK,” and many peers across campus affectionately shorten my two-syllable name to “Soj.”

To everyone who interacts with other people — so, everyone — please take 10 seconds to make sure you spell someone’s name right. I know they will appreciate it.