Growing up in Korea, I hated my given name, 효진 (Hyojin). I’m not sure exactly why, but it always felt a bit 촌스러워 (the closest definition I can think of is rustic, unrefined).
In addition, the name itself was unusual. I was named by my grandfather, who combined two Chinese characters, 효도할 효 (孝 – filial piety), and 배풀 진 (陳 – fulfill, exhibit), to form the name…a pretty ambitious name to say the least.
(Interesting tidbit: I didn’t find out until later that the second character is also a popular Chinese surname, Chen.)
I envied the girls with the pretty/cute and more common names like 유리 (Yuri) and 소원 (Sowon). Maybe it’s because they were the prettiest, most popular girls I knew? Perhaps my desire to fit in with the crowd manifested itself in my wanting a prettier, more common name.
My English name, Jenny, was actually given to me by a school secretary. When first registering for school after we moved to the states, the secretary had a hell of a time trying to pronounce my sister and my names. After butchering our verbal identities many times over, she said, “Well, I’ll call you Jenny and I’ll call you Suzy.”
I never really liked Jenny either – it’s way too common. But many people have told me that it suits me. Does this mean that I’m a common, ordinary girl?
Due to the prevalence of the name Jenny and my increasing age (thus the pressure to act like an adult and be more professional), I’ve started to use my Korean name more often in the past few years. Some have commented that it sounds pretty. I always shrugged them off, based on my preconceptions.
But one night battling insomnia, I said my name to myself and listened with a stranger’s ear. And it was pretty! At other points along the way, I found out that my name isn’t as uncommon as I had previously thought, with even two Korean celebrities sharing the name.
All was well until a friend told me that in Chinese, Hyojin is a boy’s name. I confronted my mother about this, and she replied, “Oh, didn’t you know? Everyone thought you were going to be a boy before you were born. And until you started growing hair, everyone thought you were a boy. Hyojin is a boy’s name.”