My weird middle name

嘉: excellent; joyful; auspicious
韵, 韻: rhyme; vowel 

For a few years now, my byline has been Karen K. Ho. I included the initial for a simple reason: it would help distinguish me from the hundreds of other people in the world with the same name in a Google search. I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t be confused with a University of Minnesota professor, president of an investment firm in New YorkNewmarket optometrist or the other U of T graduate who works at an interactive engagement company.

There are so many dopplegängers even in my own city of Toronto that there are seven other Karen Ho’s registered at Ryerson University and four at my rock climbing gym.

I often get questions about what the initial stands for. Most of the time, I either don’t tell people or I try to be smart and say the k is for “kick-ass”.

The truth is, the initial is just the part of my legal name I’m the most embarrassed to say out loud.

Background: My English name was chosen for its similarity to my Chinese name, which was picked by my grandfather. My younger sister Yvonne received the same treatment. My Chinese name (嘉 韻) pronounced in Cantonese is GAH-wun. (First and sixth tones, respectively.) Yvonne’s Chinese name is pronounced YEE-wun. When both of us were born, my parents also followed the common practice of using our Chinese names as our English middle names. But then for whatever reasons at the time, my mother decided to spell them differently on our birth certificates.

Yvonne got the fairly logical Yee-Wan. I got Kar-Wang.

While Wang is one of the world’s common surnames, when your English name officially includes both the words “Wang” and “Ho” you are pretty much ripe for endless mockery and humiliation.

After having had the experience of “Karen the Ho” spray-painted on the dumpster outside my elementary school during eighth-grade, it’s not surprising I have tried hard to hide this fact about myself from the general public as much as possible in my adult years. Needless to say, it hasn’t worked out that well. This phonetically-incorrect middle name is on all my legal documents, often pops up in staff directories and it has been on every single academic attendance list, leading to a fresh round of cringing each time a new teacher, professor or instructor awkwardly reads it out in class for the first time.

I have often contemplated changing it to Ga-Wan or Ka-Wan or even something completely different like Clarissa to avoid future moments of shame and embarrassment. My mother has even recently admitted she has no idea why she decided to spell it that way. But being a fairly lazy person, I have determined that getting married would be the only instance I could justify the amount of time, money and paperwork needed to legally change “Kar-Wang” to something else.

Despite these annoyances, I have to give my weird middle name some credit. On the rare occasions I do tell explain it to friends, potential employers or people in the journalism industry there are always smiles and laughter. Many giggle like they’re 12-years-old. But by revealing it to them, I know I’m increasing the likelihood they’ll remember me later.

After all, it’s hard to forget the girl with the name “Wang Ho”.

This post is part of EthnicAisle, a project about race, ethnicity and multicultural issues that I’m thrilled to be a part of. (I also stole this boilerplate from the incredibly talented Kelli Korducki.)


1 thought on “My weird middle name

  1. Great post, Karen. It’s quite a challenge to explain Chinese names and convey it in a light way, good job.

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