Natalie Lung – pronounced “loong” – Fuk-yu, an exchange student in the United States, recently shared her terrible experience for having a last name that sounds like a curse word in many English-speaking countries.
Natalie first learned the English connotation of her name when she was 9 years old. A girl from her class – equivalent to fourth grade – told her that her given name, Fuk-yu, sounded like a swear word in English, according to the student’s article in Quartz.
At the time, Natalie admitted she was clueless as what it exactly meant, but she already guessed it must be bad considering that the word always gets bleeped out in many media programs.
Ever since that encounter, she soon became aware of how she pronounces her name.
While those from the English-speaking countries may think that her same sounds like a curse word, in reality, it actually has a beautiful meaning; according to Natalie, her given name literally translates to “fragrant jade.”
Then in 2013, the news of Asiana Airlines crash at San Francisco International Airport rocked the media. In the report, a massive controversy surrounding the names of the flight crew victims of the crash made headlines – the phony, racist and highly inappropriate names were reported on U.S. television. This caused Natalie to worry about people finding out about her name.
Natalie, before attending college, went to an English language school. There, she encountered what other students with different sounding names go through during the first week of school where teachers accidentally messes up the pronunciation of your name.
“Um… Fff.. Fuke?” she said in her article, recalling how her teacher tried really hard to pronounce her name. But before the teacher could finish calling her out for attendance, Natalie already raised her hand, frantically shouting “I’m here!”
The teacher then asked her if her name was pronounced right, but instead of acknowledging it, the student just said “just call me Natalie.”
However, things still became more challenging as she moved forward in her life as a student, particularly when she became an exchange student in the U.S.
Natalie, just a month into the semester, overheard some chatter from the office of an inter-city bus stop while waiting to get a ride to St. Louis. After checking in with the receptionist at the bus stop – only mentioning her surname Lung – and settling in, she heard the person behind the desk told a white-bearded guy “She probably knows it’s embarrassing.”
What actually made it even worse was the guy’s unnecessary comment that echoed through the walls of the office to the place where she was waiting at: “That’s a she? I can’t un-see that!”
“I was mortified. For the first time in my life, I was made fun of outside the comfort of my own culture. By strangers who were at least twice my age, and before my very eyes and ears,” she said. “This wasn’t something I had learnt to have patience or forgiveness for. The humiliation overwhelmed any ounce of self-deprecating humor I had.”
In the week that followed this incident, Natalie decided to email the bus company about what happened, and explain her Chinese name to get some sort of closure. Luckily, a couple of hours later after sending the message, the owner replied with an apology.
The people involved in the whole incident had lost two days’ worth of their pay and had to take a sensitivity class.
She also received several emails from the staff members, apologizing for what they did. One of them asked forgiveness for being an “ignorant redneck” while the other one, a newly hired Christian, used a lame excuse saying that he only did it because he was trying to be “one of the boys.”
However, the latter resorted to negative American stereotypes, which did not exactly give any sort of guarantee that he won’t do the same thing to other Chinese person he come across with in the future.
“Was I happy about the outcome? I wasn’t sure. The owner was sincere, but what if the employees’ families depended on that money?” Natalie contemplates.
“I also began to realize I shouldn’t have expected strangers to understand my complex identity. Why should I expect others to have contextual knowledge about my culture, and my name?
“The next time you hear me explaining my Chinese name, that’s me trying to let the world know that my name is more than an unfortunate transliteration,” she said.
“If I don’t take the opportunity to draw interest to the meaning behind it, what the world would take away from an exchange with me might be only what sounds to them like a rather hilarious name.
“That’s not what I want my legacy to be.”