I still remember the exact moment I decided to call myself “Angela.” I was in Grade 3, and my teacher had just announced to the class that Stormy would like to be called “Anastasia” from now on.
This was my chance. I raised my hand. “Um, I would like to be called Angela from now on too.”
My teacher, Ms. O’Connor—possibly one of the most kind and understanding teachers I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing—said patiently, “Anastasia is what Stormy’s parents call her at home. Do your parents call you Angela?”
Stormy added helpfully, “Yeah. My real name is Anastasia. Stormy is my nickname.”
But it was too late to back down now, “Yes. My parents call me Angela.” No, they didn’t.
Stormy looked furious that I had stolen her thunder (pun very much intended).
Angela is not my first “English name.” It’s not even my second.
Before I even had a reason to rename myself, a friend of the family decided to name me “Jennifer” because it sounded similar to the first character of my Chinese name. It wasn’t until much later that I realized how odd this was considering that he spoke Mandarin and could pronounce my name perfectly well.
A year later, a teacher from my elementary school started calling me “Rosie” after I played a curtseying rose in that year’s garden-themed spring musical. I had to practice that curtsey over and over again until I could do it without toppling over. Roses are still my favourite flowers.
I don’t remember why I chose the name Angela, but I have this vague memory from Grade 2, when another teacher remarked that one of the characters in the story we were reading had a pretty name. But I think the name was “Susan,” not Angela.
I’ve always been aware of the existence of other Angelas in the world. One of the first books I read and reread was I Am Angela by Holly Keller. The woefully sparse Amazon description reads: “The unpredictable Angela experiences several pleasant—and not-so-pleasant—surprises when she gets lost on a Girl Scout outing, walks four dogs, and arranges a science exhibit at school.” Maybe I got a kick out of reading about someone who had the same name as me. Maybe sharing a name encouraged me to search for similarities between myself and the Angela whose stories got to be published in a book.
I have a copy of Angela’s Ashes somewhere in my room. It remains unread.
It wasn’t until junior high that I discovered there were other students who shared my last name while surreptitiously looking through the attendance sheets I had volunteered to take down to the office. They weren’t in the same classes as me so I never got the chance to meet them. I’m pretty sure we were not related.
There were two other Angelas in my grade in high school, but no “Angela Sun.”
If you Google Angela Sun, the top result is always “ANGELA SUN: Investigative Journalist. Sports Broadcaster. Documentary Filmmaker. Adventure Traveler.”
The most famous Angela Sun is this sportscaster, host, and filmmaker who has appeared on NBC, MTV, ESPN, Yahoo! Sports, Tennis Channel, and Fox Sports, among others. She graduated from UCLA and studied abroad at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. She speaks Mandarin, Spanish, and German.
According to her Maxim photo-shoot interview, she likes to hang with the boys, but does not want to be one of them. She doesn’t really care about looks but is impressed by intellect, charm, and humour.
Her mini-documentary about the “changing status of women in China” that’s available on YouTube is worth your time.
My friends and family have known me as “Angela” for 17 years now. This one time my mother and I had lost each other in the supermarket but I found her by tracing her agitated yells from two aisles over. She started with my childhood nickname, then switched to my Chinese name, and then finally, in a desperate Mandarin accent, “ANNN-ge-la.”
I couldn’t tell you which name she uses now. To my ears, they all sound the same in her voice.
Angela Sun is a Michigan State University Computer Science senior who won the National Center for Women & Information Technology Collegiate Award last year for her study on battery drain in smartphones. Dr. Angela Sun works for the Seattle Children’s Hospital, specializes in pediatrics and biomedical genetics, and has glowing patient reviews. Angela Sun is a doctoral candidate from Stanford in Educational Policy. Angela Sun is the chief of staff to the President of Bloomberg, L.P. and was a senior policy advisor to the deputy mayor of New York City.
Angela Sun is a student from Vancouver who spoke about “the staircase of oppression, a model that was created to explore the roots and effects of discrimination” at TEDxKids@BC.
I wonder if Angela Sun the psychologist and I would’ve been a good therapeutic fit. Would it be weird to see a psychotherapist who has the same name as you? Or maybe we would bond over the fact that our name was trapped between two cultures.
I think about how I am proof that the idea that we are a “model minority” is a myth. Angela Sun spent the last eight years of her life trying to complete an undergraduate degree. Angela Sun spends too much time on the internet reading celebrity gossip and updating her social media accounts. Angela Sun finally traveled by herself for the first time last March. Angela Sun is fat and not just “overweight for an Asian.”
There’s a joke in here somewhere.
Outside my immediate family there are probably only two or three friends who’ve seen my Chinese name and even fewer who can pronounce it properly. The choice to use a more “Western-sounding” name is not uncommon if you attended a school with a lot of first-generation Chinese Canadians. Our names seem to pose a particular phonetic challenge to those who are unfamiliar with tonal dialects. It can be hard for English-speakers to slide their voices into unfamiliar crevices when they are used to communicating in monotones. I still wince whenever my white boyfriend attempts to pronounce my name, and he’s saying it with love.
The second character of my name, if pronounced phonetically in its English iteration, sounds an awful like “shoes.” Shoes are gross and sweaty and stinky. This is perhaps not the best when you have a talent for attracting bullies.
It can be hard to speak a name that has no use for an alphabet. An English word contains an average of 4.79 letters. An aphorism can be symbolized by a single Chinese character. Some things will always be lost in translation.
I am still mad at UofT for cutting a character out of my Chinese name. If a Chinese name is three characters long, the first name is actually comprised of two characters. A middle character is not a middle name. To not include my second character is like calling someone “Ma” instead of Mary. I want to throw up whenever I receive an email from the professors who do not know me as “Angela.”
I disliked my Chinese name for a long time because it sounds like a traditional “boy’s name.” It isn’t melodious or lilting, but straight and striking. It was a constant reminder that I was always forced to play tomboy Sailor Jupiter during playground role playing games because I was never pretty enough to be Sailor Moon. On a good day I was allowed to be Sailor Mars. Fortunately, I grew out of this.
My father, the oldest son in his family, wished for a son of his own, but all he got was me.
I thought I’d feel a bit creepy researching the online presence of all the Angelas. But I don’t.
Maybe it’s because I just read what was publicly available. Look, if it’s Google search-able, it’s public. Maybe it’s because I have some weird idea about how, just because we have the same name and are Westernized women of East Asian descent, we are connected somehow. That there is some common experience that we hold as betwixt and between women with a Christian name of Latin origin and a Chinese last name. Maybe it’s because I have this weirder idea about how all these Angelas are like alternate versions of myself. That if I had taken a different turn somewhere, I could’ve been a sexy sportscaster who makes documentaries about how plastic is destroying the earth. That I could still become someone else if I really wanted to.
I don’t know. Maybe.