Last week at Starbucks, the employee taking my order didn’t ask for my name. Instead, he looked down at the credit card I’d just given him, and after a moment’s pause, wrote the name he found onto the cup. I felt an urge to say something, but with a line of twenty people behind me, I thought better of it and proceeded shamefully to the bar to pick up my drink. I saw it coming from a mile away. The barista who just made my drink looked down at my name, frowning.
“Is there a…”
“It’s me!” I blurted out, before she could say it. “That’s mine.”
I looked at the customers around me who had turned at my outburst to stare at me. Trying to avoid eye contact, I took my drink and exited the store as quickly as I could.
With the exception of those who speak Korean, everybody I have ever met in my entire life has pronounced my name incorrectly the first time. “Jin-Woo” and “Jeen-Woo” have been the regulars, though I have also gotten “Jyne-Woo” and “Jun-Woo” before. In all honesty, I hate hearing my name mispronounced, to the point where rude occurrences like the aforementioned incident at Starbucks happen at parties, interviews and restaurants that take reservations.
It’s not like I can blame them. My name is literally spelled Jin-Woo. If anything, it shows that the people I meet are literate, for the most part.
Sometimes, I’m lucky enough to avoid the situation altogether by using a fake name. The Starbucks in Hoya Court knows me as Sam. Sam orders triple shot espressos and caramel Frappuccinos at 9 p.m., but only for about two weeks at the end of each semester. The Starbucks in Lincoln Center where I worked all summer knows me as Michael, which makes slightly more sense, as Michael is my middle name. Michael, who can’t afford a $6 Frappuccino or the empty calories of a cup of whole milk, orders unsweetened black tea or iced coffee without room and hates himself for it.
I wish there was a way I could just send out a message to the world: Jee-Noo! My name is pronounced Jee-Noo! Like “Gee, that’s new.” Like Geno, but with an extra ‘o’. Are any of these working? Maybe?
I grew up hating my own name. There was nothing I wanted more than an American name — one that people would glance over without so much as a second’s pause. Like everybody else’s name. Like the “Alex” and “Charlie” and “Matt” I knew growing up who are Americans like I am, who were born in New Jersey and played with American toys and watched American cartoons and, yet, were so different because nobody ever batted an eye at the strangeness of their names.
Jinwoo was always so Asian to me. As if the only thing I could ever be was a math whiz with glasses and two doctor parents — a stereotype, when I thought of myself as anything but one.
It didn’t make sense to me. Weren’t you supposed to feel some kind of connection with your name? You were supposed to like your name. It was your name, anyway. I felt guilty because I didn’t, because I probably would have traded my name for any other name out there, just as long as it was American.
My parents gave me an American middle name in case I ever wanted to change my name. My mother had exchanged her own Korean name for an American one when she was five. Naturally, they wanted the option available for me, and although I thought about it many times, I could never quite bring myself to do it. As a ten-year-old, hating my own name, but also hating the idea of changing it, provided ample personal turmoil. I must have been around eight years old when my parents first introduced the idea to me, but, now, 11 years later, I am no closer to legally changing my name than I was back then.
I think deep down, I like the conversation that accompanies my name when I meet new people. It gives me something to talk about. And of course, it is inconvenient sometimes, but I am always reminded to ask myself whether it is really worth giving myself a new name to avoid some seconds-long embarrassment at Starbucks. Every time I do, I realize that it’s not.
I will tell myself that it’s already too late, that any other name I choose will never stick. I will tell myself that I should be thankful, because I am one of maybe 50 people in the entire world named Jinwoo, and maybe the only one in the world named Jinwoo Chong.
I don’t think there is anyone else I could be, anyway.
Jinwoo Chong is a rising junior in the College. This is the final appearance of Party of Four.