What’s in a Name?

– Hi chị Vân!

The girl typed on the screen. Was she talking to me? There was no Vân in this chat room. I double checked the friend list on Viber to make sure I was right. She must be talking to me then. But hey that was not my name. Here we go again…

I worked for Hongkong Bank more than 15 years ago in Saigon. I was in Trade Services and she worked as a teller in the front. We did not quite have any interaction on a daily basis, but everyone knew everyone. The Hongkong Bank office was very small back then. It was not like we had thousands of employees on a huge campus.
Recently they set up a chat group on Viber to connect all former employees from all around the world: Vietnam, United States, Canada, Australia,… I had a lot of fun reading all the chats coming thru 24 hours of the day literally and reminisced about all the good old memories, but it was not very exciting that someone did not recognize me. How could it be?

– Hi Ngân, are you talking to me? There is no Vân in this chat room 🙂

I carefully crafted my words and drew a smiling face to imply it was not a big deal that she got my name wrong. As if I did not care at all.

– Oh Temy, sorry, I remember you. I don’t know why I associated you with the name Vân.

The girl responded after a few minutes…. This is the second time it happened. The first time it occurred to me, it hit me hard.

It was a week ago that a guy named Dũng joined the chat room. I have not seen him for over 15 years since the day I quit my job at Hongkong Bank, but my memory about him is very clear. He occupied the office in the corner on the second floor not very far from my cubicle. He shared the tiny office with two other guys, one was in fact a Vietnamese expatriate who had returned home in pursuit of whatever he couldn’t find in the US. Dũng, on the other hand, just finished studying in the US and went home to join the bank. It was very impressive that he had a degree from a US university, since it was super hard, if not impossible, to have a chance to study abroad back then, unless you had powerful connections.

Soon after Dũng reunited with the old Hongkong Bank gang in the virtual world, he mentioned where he and his family currently reside. I realized he doesn’t live very far from me, hence I chimed in on the endless stream of conversations on Viber, telling him we live pretty near each other and asking him if he would be interested in getting together some time.

-Yes, Temy, I actually work near where you live and we can have lunch with each other some day. By the way, how do you spell your name in Vietnamese?

I was happy half way thru his response. How do I spell my name in Vietnamese? Hmmmm….

My name is spelled Tề My. Growing up, I was always having a hard time telling people what my name was. It always went like this.
– My name is Tề My
– What is it? Trà My?
– No, it is Tề My
– Tài My? Tà My?
– No, it is Tề My. T Ề M Y

Oh gosh, why did my parents pick so strange, so not-like-any-one-else, and so hard-to-spell a name for me? I hated my name. I wished I had another name. Any name. A flower, a cloud, a plant,…any of those that a girl is usually named after. Not straight eyebrows. But the name stuck with me.

Once I immigrated to the US, people here would spell my name in tons of different ways: Tami, Temi, Tammy, Tamie,… as you can imagine. If a Vietnamese spells my name as Tề Mi or Temi, it won’t surprise me at all because the “i”and the “y” are sometimes used interchangeably in our language. But why on earth an American spells my name as Temi is way beyond my imagination.

As time went by, the name grew on me. I came to like it, love it and became proud of it. Tề My, a unique name, a one of a kind name, the one and only name. I have never met anyone in my life whose name is the same as mine. That is why it came as a shock to me that my old co-workers did not recognize me. Me, the girl with the once-in-a-blue-moon name, the girl as honest and straightforward as the meaning of her name, the day-dreaming girl who often stood by the windows of Hongkong Bank, looking out to the heavy rain in Saigon, and dreamed of a far away land where she would go for higher education, meet a prince and…. That will be another story then.

At the end of the day, what’s in a name? By any other name, I would smell as sweet.

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7 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

  1. I love this so much. Pieces that connect you to the writer’s life like this are always cathartic for me. And it’s really well written. Thank you for sharing.

    Did you ever have a period where you went by a nickname? I had everyone call me a nickname for a year in school to get away from the name I was given.

    Liked by 1 person

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