A Berkeley by any other name

Off the Beat


“Oh, your name’s ‘Berkeley’?”

I hear it when people look me up on Facebook, when they read the name on my credit card and even from the cashier at The Den. And every time I hear those words, I can’t stop myself from cringing. It’s always followed by “Isn’t it funny that you’re going to UC Berkeley” or “Did you do that because of your name,” or “Berkeley’s going to Berkeley — how funny.”

Yes, it is funny, but the humor wears off when I’ve already heard it seven times that day.

When I tell people about my first name, the typical first response is “Woah! Why do you go by Sakura, then, if you’re Berkeley going to Berkeley?” I feel like the answer is pretty clear. If I can, with the tiny amount of power that I have, mitigate the amount of pestering I get about my name, then all the better.

Before going to college, I always went by “Berkeley.” I hadn’t even really considered changing my name until I got my acceptance letter, but after Cal Student Orientation, or CalSO, I decided I would go by my middle name: Sakura. It’s easier to explain — I’m half Japanese, and my mother wanted me to have a Japanese name.

I get fewer jokes poking fun at “Sakura,” and they’re a lot less serious. Sometimes I get asked about the plot of the popular anime show “Naruto,” although I’ve never seen it. Sometimes I just get flat out called a “weeaboo,” which means someone who fetishizes Japanese culture. Tough luck, buddy, I just am Japanese.

When I came to college, I was torn, debating whether I should go by “Sakura” when I’d gone my entire life as “Berkeley.” How hard would it be to adapt? Would people find it weird when I explain my real first name? Would people guess “Sakura” was not my real name?

During CalSO, though, someone asked me the worst possible question about my name. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard it either, but to hear it coming from other UC Berkeley students in my CalSO group made it sting worse than anything before.

After overcoming the initial shock about the coincidence of my name, someone in my group asked, “What if you got in just because your name’s ‘Berkeley’?”

I’ve been asked this many times in different ways — “What if they just looked at your name and said, ‘We’ve gotta have her,’ ” or “It’d be terrible if you didn’t get in — like, your name is ‘Berkeley.’ ”

But the pointedness of this question from my fellow student at CalSO struck me. It brought back all the worry and self-doubt I’d felt when I first applied. Maybe I’m really not smart enough to be here. What if I really did just get into the college of my dreams because I happened to be named after said college? I’m sure there were some actual good qualities in my application, but nothing could stop me from worrying that my name was all that got me into university.

I laughed it off to the person’s face, because you can’t easily explain to someone that they shattered your self-esteem in one sentence or less. I told them that I probably did, that the college admissions people just took one look at the top label of my application and said, “Hey, we totally have to let this underqualified child into our pristine college because her name is the same as ours.”

Everyone thought it was hilarious, because one would think that I would have gotten used to all of the possible remarks I could get about my unique name. And they would be right for thinking so, but this time, for some reason, I was caught off guard.

Since that incident, though, I’ve only felt more justified in going by “Sakura.” Being named “Berkeley” is the least possible fun thing that I’ve experienced.

Don’t get me wrong, I go by “Berkeley” whenever I go home. My name in all my friends’ phones is “Berkeley,” and my entire family calls me “Berkeley.” After college, I probably will go back to being known as “Berkeley,” because I wholeheartedly enjoy having it as a name and I feel that “Berkeley” is a part of my identity. But, while I’m in college, I can’t handle the amount of jokes that spring up about something that I care so deeply about.

So I go by “Sakura.” Sakura is a much safer name than Berkeley, especially in this city. I’m a thousand times readier to answer questions about my alleged status as a “weeaboo” or my “love for Naruto” than I am to answer ones about whether I think it’s funny that “Berkeley’s going to Berkeley.”

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the spring semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.

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  • lspanker

    You should stick with “sakura” which doesn’t have the negative connotations of Berkeley these days. In addition, さくら sound far nicer than バークレー…

  • Mariah De Zuzuarregui

    You are amazing, Sakura! You got in because you’re smart and you’re awesome. Both of your names are very unique. :) keep up the good work at the Daily Cal, we are so lucky to have such a talented writer such as yourself.

  • jeyhovah

    love love love this article! It reminds me that the staff at Cal do have functioning brains

  • s randall

    When my son was born I ask my wife, “How about Cal?” She was not amused.

  • s randall

    When my son was born I ask my wife, “How about Cal?” She was not amused.

  • Killer Marmot

    I laughed it off to the person’s face, because you can’t easily explain to someone that they shattered your self-esteem in one sentence or less.

    If that is all it takes to “shatter your self-esteem” then you need to toughen up. Life will throw thousands of minor put-downs your way, and you need the confidence and maturity to ignore the obvious nonsense.

    Every student in Berkeley is lucky to be there. Quit worrying about whether you deserve it (whatever that’s supposed to mean) and make the most of your opportunity.

  • Nunya Beeswax

    It’s not your fault that your parents can’t tell a surname from a Christian name.

    • Cam


      • Nunya Beeswax

        It’s a snarky comment, and you’re a tiresome font of sanctimony.

        • Cam