What’s in an International Name?


Credit: Williston Flickr

Many international students go by names that are “westernized.” These names, however, may not be what appear on their birth certificates. That’s because Simon Kim ’19 is actually Seungwoo Kim, Jade Chan ’20 is Wing Shum Chan, and Erin Chai ’21 is Shen-Yi Chai.

Jade, whose birth name is pronounced “wing sum,” is from Hong Kong; she told The Willistonian the beautiful story behind the meaning of her name.

“On my dad’s side, a lot of the daughters have the name “wing” and then “sum” is basically a heart, so it’s an organ,” she said. “‘Wing’ in Cantonese means ‘beautiful’ and it’s essentially an adjective, and every daughter has it, and then they have an organ or something after that. So, for me, my name “Wing Shum” means ‘beautiful heart.’ One of my cousins, her name actually means ‘beautiful soul’ so it’s all really cool.”

Jade said that she chose the name “Jade” as her English name because she wanted a name that really resonated with her.

“I didn’t want a basic name,” Jade said. “I just wondered what would really speak to me and jade [the gemstone] in ancient China, and even now, is very expensive to buy, and my grandma has a jade necklace and it’s something you keep safe so, I just wanted that to reflect me.”

Katie Han ’19, who is from South Korea, was named “Eunyul” by her grandfather.

“A lot of Korean names come from Chinese culture, but the meanings are in Korean,” Katie explained. “So, ‘eun’ means ‘grace’ and ‘yul’ means ‘nut tree.’ So, my name means ‘to grow and flourish in grace.’ The name itself also just sounds pretty in Korean,” she said.

Katie said she chose to use her English name at Williston because it’s easier to pronounce.

“I’ve had my English name since I was six or seven … for almost my entire life, so I’m also used to that name,” she said. “My birth name is just way too hard to pronounce, even for me sometimes, so I just thought it would be easier to pronounce and having an English name would create a sort of familiar image here.”

Although she’s had her English name for most of her life, Katie says her friends and family back home refer to her as “Eunyul.”

Erin Chai ’21, on the other hand, says people back home in Taiwan call her “Erin” and the only people that call her by her birth name, Shen-Yi, are Taiwanese adults.