Huh? In which a young scholar struggles to build her academic presence with a difficult name

This happens to a lot of people: you give the barista your name and you end up with a Sharpie-d scrawl you figure out is yours only through a combination of squinting at it and the resignation that it’s somehow close enough to your real name. But this also happens to me ALL the time, and it leads to my larger concern: how does this influence how I present myself professionally? Do I take the slightly less painful route or the fully painful route?

My full name is Celeste Tuong Vy Sharpe. Actually, that’s mostly correct as it’s missing crucial accent marks, but this is the way my name will most always end up presented. And Tuong Vy is one name, two words. Lopping off the second word transforms my name to another word and meaning entirely.

I’ve gone back and forth over whether I wanted to include my middle name in my academic and professional work. Pros: it’s an important marker of my heritage, it’s my name to half my family, and I just like it. Cons: constant snickering/confusion/contempt even, fumbled pronunciations, numerous misspellings. The Cons continue to give me misgivings, since just this week I’ve noticed one misspelling (Celeste Tuong V. Sharpe—this is a new one) and had a phone conversation where I had to repeat several times that yes, Celeste is my first name and Sharpe my last, and [insert uncomfortable pause from the caller here] yes, Tuong Vy (both words!) is my middle name. I imagine that if my name were Chelsea Theresa-Ann Sharpe the woman would have had less trouble identifying my first, middle, and last names. I applaud her for wanting to get it right, but there are less awkward and insensitive ways to phrase a lack of understanding.

So despite the constant frustration that ranges from others’ benign carelessness to racism-based contempt (yes, those come up all too frequently) I’m letting the Pros carry the day. It’s my name. It speaks to my background of which I am incredibly proud, and I’m going to take this as an opportunity to show the importance of respecting other persons/cultures/backgrounds through the respectful treatment of their names. “Huh?” and “What?” just won’t cut it with me anymore.

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