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What's in a Name

My name is Erin. It is not such a hard one to remember, in my opinion; it is only two syllables, four letters long. Erins of some fame include: Erin Hunter, author of the Warrior Cats series (although it is a pseudonym); Erin Hannon from the hit NBC comedy The Office; and Erin Brockovich, environmental activist whose story inspired the movie, Erin Brockovich. Yet from my encounters with the general public, one could almost believe that the name “Erin” is one of most unfathomable difficulty to commit to memory, one even more uncommon than X Æ A-12, longer than Hubert Blaine Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorff Sr., an unpronounceable tongue twister.

In at least one class every year, I’ve had the pleasure of repeating my name long into the second semester for those who cannot seem to remember. I look fondly back upon my freshman year, when at a gratitude ceremony at the very end of the year, on the very last day of class, in fact, a teacher expressed their gratitude and appreciation for me, Angelina. Regrettably, my name is not Angelina. This had the unfortunate effect of making the very kind sentiments expressed by the instructor seem a little less than genuine. I have thus begun to wonder as of late whether my face is particularly bland. After all, the problem is not specific to a single person; multiple unrelated people with otherwise perfect eyesight have trouble identifying me, so the fault must be mine. To combat this, I have been decorating my perhaps unremarkable face with more remarkable makeup—thick eyeliner, bright eyeshadow, squiggly shapes all over my eyes.

Hopefully the problem can be remedied now: Erin is the one with all the makeup. My hypothesis, however, was unsupported by evidence, as those around me still could not seem to remember my name. I moved on to another hypothesis: perhaps since there are so many people on campus, so many names to remember in total, I am being too harsh. However, it seems that my name in particular is the one to evade the mind’s grasp. I asked around, was I imagining it? Was I being too sensitive? No, most other students were identified just fine. No, other students also noticed that my name was often forgotten, and it soon became a weary running joke. I then attempted to convince myself that I was making too big a fuss. After all, it’s just a name. I am not being harassed or denigrated or assaulted. I must grin and bear it. I still believe this to some extent, but being called the wrong name on a regular basis by people who have seen you thrice a week for many months or more has the perhaps unintended effect of making a person feel a bit small.

My final hypothesis was that of race. Some of you may be tired of hearing about race. I am tired of getting called the wrong name. When people start getting my name right, I will have no reason to hypothesize racial motivations, even to write this article. It did not escape my notice that I was always getting confused with East Asians. It does make sense—people of the same race will share certain physical characteristics, for example, straight black hair, black eyes, a certain skin tone. However, there are more than enough differences between individuals of the same race to be able to tell them apart—style, height, demeanor, our literal faces? It’s not as if we’re twins or even remotely related. I also noticed while asking my peers that those who were also being misidentified were not white—my white friends had no trouble being identified after perhaps a month, tops.

The problem extends to faculty; I have heard of a junior confusing two East Asian teachers who have taught here a long time. And the problem extends beyond College Prep. I have often been misidentified and compared to gorgeous but completely different-looking East Asian women. The higher rate of misidentification of non-white people compared to white people is a societal problem, particularly deadly in the criminal justice system. However, within our rather small community, it is a reflection of how much exposure to faces of color this community has had.

I don’t know how to end this article, to be honest. A call to action would be appropriate here, but what can I say? “Try harder, please. It’s hurting my feelings?” It’s not as if the otherwise very kind individuals in this community intentionally forget my name in order to spite me. But I can at least say that it becomes a bit more than a silly mistake to be brushed off when it happens over and over and over again. Perhaps knowing that there is a person behind the name being forgotten will spur some thought. At least, that is my hope.

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