Power of Names: Three Words, Eight Letters

Three words, three syllables, eight letters.

Say it, and you got my full name. It’s not quite how you expected the sentence to end, eh? *mischievous laugh*

My real name is very unique – short but far from simple. It has been countlessly spelt and pronounced wrongly that I sometimes stopped correcting people and started answering to however they said it. Finally I took on an English name: Jill (we’ll come around to that a bit later). As a Malaysian Chinese, my name spelt in English is loosely translated from Chinese but not direct romanisation from Chinese characters, and because of this hiccup, I have a story to tell.

  • My family name, when spelt in English, has only two consonants which is a direct translation to English from Cantonese. It is easily pronounced by people in my home country where this surname is easily recognisable, but not so much in anywhere else.  It is not impossible to read words without vowels, English words have many words like “my” “cwm” “rhythm” and the list goes on.
  • My first name consists of two words, three letters each and is non-hyphenated. The first word of my first name when pronounced, it sounds like a bee buzzing. When written, the letter ‘s’ in this word is always mistaken as ‘z’, because there are more people with the names that is spelt with ‘z’. An unacceptable reason.
  • The second word of my first name has a silent “i” and sounds like a pronoun; you.

With a two-word first name, I was in horror when I filled in my university online application; I could not insert a space bar when I was at the “first name” text box. After much contemplation of joining the two words or put a hyphen in between, I had no choice but to put the second word of my first name into the maiden name box.

The price of unique names comes the difficulty of pronunciations. A surname with no vowels, a first name that sounds like a bee buzzing and has a silent vowel. That is certainly a challenge, am I right?

Things Only People With Unique Names Will Understand

1. When you were young, you took a long time to learn your name too.

  • My family had a pet name for me, so initially I was not used to reading or listening to my real name. When I was in Primary 5, I was so tongue-tied that when it was my turn to introduce myself, I pronounced my name wrongly. I was too embarrassed to correct her when she repeated what I said, and that teacher called me “C” my entire year. I winced every single time she called me with that letter, reminding me of the my mistake of not being able to pronounced my name.

2.  You have a mild panic attack when your restaurant hostess asks for your name.

  • Starbucks, the land of misspelled names on cups. Even when I say that my name is Jill, it’s sometimes spelled as Gill. I can never catch a break.  I learn to adapt to what I think the barrister could understand; during my university years, I would give another name that is more generic, like Kate, Susan or Carol. The downside about inventing names on the spot is sometimes you forget what you gave. Or worse, you heard it, but did not respond because you thought it was someone else’s name. When I came back to Malaysia, and told the barrister to label my cup “Jill”, he blinked at me in confusion. So I gave him my surname – you know the one with no vowels – and wallah, simple as that.

3. You automatically assume that the gibberish name on the PA system is yours. 

  • With a name like mine, I am automatically aware of names that sound like mine. I count the syllables, listen to the silent pause in the middle of each one, and take my chances. Sometimes the announcer would painfully rush while pronouncing the difficult name, which made it sound like a mumble. The name I hear is so different from what I usually expect, that I ignore it and realised later, that gibberish sound you just heard – it’s mine.
  • Once, my luggage was misplaced on a long distance flight and my name was attempted to be called to the baggage claim counter. I waited at the carousel until I was last one. Then, the attendant directed me to the baggage claim counter on the other side of the room *tears*.

4. You immediately raise your hand as soon as there is pause in roll call. 

  • Sometimes I raise my hand up knowing it is my turn,after I roll my eyes and let out a half understanding smile. Sometimes I’m mean or mischievous, I just wait and see the person’s pained expression while trying to guess how to read my name. I have to give them credit for trying.
  • When I was in high school, during prize giving ceremonies, the emcee would personally ask each of us if our names are correctly pronounced before reading our names on stage. Isn’t that a brilliant idea? During my university graduation, I was very surprised that my professor pronounced my name correctly – all three words! I was beaming with pride.

5. You still get cards from your extended family or friends with your name spelled wrong.

  • Back when Chinese New Year cards were spluttered like free food, i received many with my names spelled wrongly. Like they said, it is the thought that counts right?

6. People on Facebook are continuously spell your name wrong even it is listed mere inches from the comment box

  • It still happens, much to my surprise. I have friends with unique names too – all one has to do is copy the name of the person and paste it in the comment box. It is that simple.

7. When giving your name, you automatically spell it out of habit.

  • Especially if it’s over the counter. I usually say it very slowly, because I’m pretty sure the person will get it wrong somehow. Because it happens all too often.

8. You repeatedly get asked why your parents gave you  “that name”

  • “Your name is so hard to pronounce. Why didn’t your parents come up with a simpler name” or “Even a Chinese can’t pronounce your name properly. What’s more to say about the other races?” 

  Can people feel it if I rolled my eyes behind their back? 

9. You have had to redo, reapply or resubmit official documents because your name is spelled wrong. 

  • The letter Z. My prefect name tag in primary school was spelled wrongly by the school administration, how careless of them. I had asked for a new badge, but one year in, I did not receive it. As a minor retaliation from an eleven year-old, I wore my usual name tag – the one with the correct name throughout the year. i think I threw the misspelled badge away (I love keeping sentimental value things, so that says something).

10. People actually question if you have misspelled or mispronounced your own names.

  • One of the people I know (it’s a good thing I can’t remember who) asked about my last name. “But there’s a letter i in it. Shouldn’t it be pronounced you…..e” This person made a point to end the sentence with an octave higher, as if it’s supposed to amuse me somehow. Me, quirky on response at that time, replied instantly: “is a mosque be pronounced mos…kiu?”

11. It actually makes your day when a stranger pronounces your name correctly. 

  • I think we should remember the people that makes us smile, rather than those that makes us cry go wtf.


If you’re still reading, thumbs up for you!

Jill was a name my college friend invented, I thanked her for that. She said that if I pronounced my name quickly, it will sound like Jill.  I agreed and so the name stuck. I would rather have a simple name that I could automatically respond to rather than names that I like, for example, Katherine or Sarah. And my friends say I “could look like a Jill”. Can you look like your name?

Have you ever googled yourself and is surprised by the results? I have.

I am most certain that nobody has the same name as I do, until I googled my full name and found exactly one match… in the California Death Records. Apparently someone of the same name that last resided in San Francisco and had lived up to 88 years old. Pffft, pretty sure someone was trolling on the web.

Anyway, I’ve tried to cut my online presence to a minimum especially when I found out that my university term address used to be available on the web. I found an article I wrote for an organisation two years ago. Also, I could trace a Facebook comment I made on a public video 3 years ago,  blogs that I was mentioned in, the mandatory orientation programme list when I first join high school 11 years ago and the list went on.

What about you? Do you like being visually present on the web, or are you trying to keep a low profile with a pseudonym?


(List adapted from buzzfeed)

(This post is written in response to Weekly Writing Challenge: Power of Names)

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10 thoughts on “Power of Names: Three Words, Eight Letters

  1. artfullyadelie says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I can’t imagine how frustrated you must be, especially experiencing this your entire life. Maybe the next time someone asks why your parents gave you that name, tell them that you’re just too awesome for any other name, so they had to create one especially for you! 🙂

    • Jill says:

      That is an awesome idea – I’ll use it next round if people ask about my name. “I’m awesome and my parents know it before I was born”

      Sometimes I’m so used to it that I respond to almost any names that sounded like mine – and occasionally, I would respond to the wrong ones.

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