Why I started using a nickname

Illustration of a girl at orientation trying to pick a name
Mingxin Wang/File

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My name is Eunkyo, a Korean name that means, “Shine like silver, receive wise teachings.” The thing is, both syllables of this name I love are extremely difficult to pronounce with the American tongue. “Eun” is pronounced like the “en” in “garden,” and “kyo” is one syllable: “yo” with a soft “k” in front. Because there are no phonetic syllables in English to describe these pronunciations, “Eunkyo” is the closest spelling commonly used by Koreans, and when read out loud by those who speak English, my name suddenly becomes “yoon-kai-o.”

For the longest time, I stood firm in my belief that my name is my name, and I will hold onto it no matter what. I attended an international high school in South Korea, and while many Koreans around me adopted a new English name such as “John” or “Sarah,” I refused to change my name for others. Moving to the United States, however, where the majority of the population doesn’t speak Korean, in addition to attending UC Berkeley, where I have to introduce myself to many new people and have had times I wanted to speak up in a class of more than 500 students, I realized that my name had suddenly become a burden to my confidence.

I hated introducing myself, not only because of the anticipated stutter and new variations of my name forming but also because it sometimes felt like there was a negative prejudice upon unfamiliar names — an assumption that the person is not from here and is therefore awkward to this culture. I started going by “Erin” at Starbucks and on Uber. I became hesitant to speak up in class, often in a huge lecture hall with hundreds of students, afraid that the professor would ask for my name. Most importantly, because people couldn’t say my name, they wouldn’t remember it and would be more reluctant to call and approach me.

I wish that I had the courage and patience to make people learn my name, to embrace and enjoy the stutter and repetition. As much as I wanted to cherish my full Korean name, I have to be honest — I felt that the name “Eunkyo,” in the United States, was weighing down my confidence and hindering me from being myself. While I wanted a name that represented who I was, I also wanted to fit in.

Instead of fully changing my name, I decided to come up with a nickname. I wanted to keep a connection with my real name while making it easier to read, pronounce and remember. I also wanted my nickname to still represent my Korean ethnicity. I tried various methods to come up with a nickname from my full name: choosing a common name that starts with the same letter, dropping and playing with syllables, finding an English name with a similar meaning and simply using initials. After months of playing with many choices — including “Erin,” “Ellie,” “Kyo” and “EK” — I settled on “Euna,” pronounced “yoo-nah” — a name that takes a portion of the spelling of my real name, is easy to pronounce and remember and, most importantly, represents my identity as a Korean.

There are many people, including myself, who believe in embracing your given name. For me, however, while preserving my name and identity was important, so was confidence and convenience. I love the name “Eunkyo,” but living in the United States, “Euna” has made my life so much easier. After all, what is a name? It’s a word that identifies you, but it’s also a word that you hear every day, a word for others to claim your attention and a word that supplements your first impression. You define what your name means to you, so if you feel the need, don’t hold back on making yourself a nickname.

Contact Euna Jo at [email protected].