From China to the US – The Story of a Chinese Name

Street artist (Photo by Rong Xiaoqing via Open City)

Street artist (Photo by Rong Xiaoqing via Open City)

In English, her name had been pronounced as “soaking wrong.” In Chinese, the name involves two of the most complicated characters in the simplified Chinese writing system, baffling quite a few native speakers. In a piece for Open City, Rong Xiaoqing recounts the challenges of having a name like hers, both in the U.S. and in her native China.

"Rong Xiaoqing" written in Chinese (Image via Open City)

“Rong Xiaoqing” written in Chinese (Image via Open City)

While growing up in China, the Sing Tao Daily reporter was used to many people not knowing how to pronounce the characters of her name. When she learned “xiao” means young bamboos and “qing” refers to a valley full of bamboos, she “fell in love with” the name but moving to the U.S., where the characters turned into less meaningful Roman letters, she encountered a different set of challenges.

In her first years in her new country, she arranged her name in the conventional first name-last name order: Xiaoqing Rong.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that most English-speaking people don’t know how to pronounce words starting with an “x.” So Xiaoqing, pronounced ‘Shiao-Ching’, more often than not became “soaking,” and Rong, my last name, is conveniently pronounced as “wrong.” The years I was being called “soaking wrong” were also the years that I gradually found my voice in my host country. I realized I am here not only to follow the model set by other people but also to add my own contribution to the diverse fabric of American culture. I realized my own culture and my experience as a new immigrant have great value. I started to write in English to share my opinions.

By 2008, she decided to revert her name back to the Chinese order, with Rong, her last name, first. Go to Open City to read why this was “bad timing, it turned out” and for her full essay on the story of her name.

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