The life of a butchered name

…is my name – and boy, has it had a whirlwind of adventures in its 25 years of existence. It’s been tossed into a linguistic grinder , verbally chopped and phonetically dissected to create possibly the most interesting sounds ever. 

I will have gotten your lips moving by now in your own attempt. No worries though, you won’t be the first.

From Ding Dong to All Wrong  

First day of 3rd grade, Mrs. Wainwright called the roll as her eyes glanced around our circle of 15 to fit the names with the faces. Each time a person’s name was read, the whole class would say in unison “Hi…” Kevin or Alice or John.

It was finally my turn and it’s still somehow engrained in the back of my mind, her knitted brows and the perplexed expression on her face as she hesitantly uttered “Dong?“.

Zuh-ong“, I replied , to which her face wrinkled up even more so, before stretching out to smile : “How about we call you by an English name, yes? How’s Jen or Jenny?” (what my classmate told me a year later)

You must understand, I was 8 at the time, I had been studying French the 2 years before and hadn’t a word of English in my head besides “Hi”.  And so I did what a lost person would do, NOD.

Only a second later, I realized what a huge mistake I had made, as the whole class shouted “Hi Jenny!

From Jenny to Jo – to Yoyo ! 

I still and forever will have sour memories of that name “Jenny”. By the time I was equipped with enough English to fend for myself, the damage had been done. Throughout the next years, I gave in to the “Jenny” stipulation, by doing the worst, introducing myself by that name. 

By high school, I was back in the States again and it was the perfect turning point to sack the name and begin anew. I even added a “z” turning my name into Dzuong, hoping it would somehow smooth out  the concerned brows.

The already-formed cliques of rebellious teenagers couldn’t give a beeswax about what Dzuong is and so the butchering began. You had everything from the coarse “Ding Dong”, to the softer “Zong” and “Zu” , and even “Zuzu”.  And, of course my AP Physics teacher, who just insisted on calling me “Jo“, to which some caught on and called me “Yoyo” -yes, like the toy.

It was a linguistic nightmare, and yes, I’ve sank to low points where I wished my name was just a plain and readable one.

Growing out the nickname phase

The college days were much kinder to my name. The poor thing had suffered enough and was in a such a tattered state, that it was shocked to meet people genuinely interested in getting it right.

My first dance performance freshmen year, I remember almost tripping over my next step, hearing a stark “Go ZUH-ONG!!!!! ” amidst the crowd. That was it, another turning point – the perfect time to grow out of the nickname phase.

Vietnamese explained

In Vietnamese, there are 2 “D” s in the alphabet and no “Z” s:

You have:  Đ which is pronounced like an English D 

          and:  D which is pronounced like an English Z 

Hence, my name!

I don’t really blame people for getting it wrong though. It’s a tough nut to crack even for Vietnamese, especially children. They usually say “Dua” or “Zuh” instead, which means Melon. There’s another one to my nickname collection. And I haven’t even started on the accents, Duong in Vietnamese is written like this: Dương.

The farthest thing from being unique

Both my parents’ names begin with D. They were pressed in a weird, perfectionist way to name their first child with a D word as well. My mom described the moment of an angry nurse tapping a pen on the side of the bed: “Either you give me a name now, or I’ll name your child for you on the birth certificate, hurry up” (That’s just how you were treated back in those food ration days in Vietnam) 

Unfortunate for me, it was the decade of hundreds of Vietnamese graduates coming back from the former Soviet Union, and everyone was naming their daughters : Thùy Dương , which means Russian Willow.

And so, with seconds and a pissed-off nurse to go, I was hastily named Duong, along with probably the tens of thousands of babies born that year. Needless to say, virtually every Vietnamese class I’ve been in, there has been another Duong if not 4 more. Along with the diverse array up there, for the teacher’s convenience, I’ve also been called Duong A and Duong B, or Duong number 1 and Duong number 3.

I started a part-time job in a Vietnamese restaurant here in London the other day, and what do you reckon, there were 2 other “Duong”s. And yes, the nicknaming has commenced again. The manager insisted and you’ll have to come to the resto to find out what it is (shameless advertisement)

This post is getting way too narcissistic, but to end it off and just to set the record straight once and for all: My name is Duong (pronounced Zuh-Ong)./.

Fun fact: my first dog – a German shepherd – was named Dim, to carry on the D-family tradition.

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