Cindy Huang was the first person I met when I arrived at Northwestern University from France in September. She lived next to me in my dorm and introduced herself as Cindy. But the name on her door was Binghui Huang. For a while, I didnâ€™t realize they were the same person.
She left China and her grandma with whom she lived in the province of Yang Zhou, in the southeast of the country, when she was in 2nd grade to reconnect with her parents who were living in the United States as graduate students. Already separated by the time she came to the US, they waited to be professionally and financially stable to welcome their daughter.
Binghui came to the U.S. without any knowledge of English or of American culture in general. She decided to use an American name, a few weeks after her arrival, because she knew that few people in the U.S. could correctly say her actual name. She based her choice on Disney movies. â€œ They were the only American characters I knew and Cinderella has always been my favorite one,â€ she says. Cindy doesnâ€™t think of her name change as an identity issue.
The move from China to the United States was the dramatic change and she still isnâ€™t over it. She misses China and its strong community system, her neighbors and shopkeepers. She regards the years she spent in China as the happiest of her life. She recalls how difficult it has been to use a completely different alphabet to communicate. But she also revels in how American she feels now and how much she loves Americaâ€™s diversity.
Yet, she admits that she hates having to explain why she has two different names because she feels she is just conveying the wrong message, as if she is embarrassed of her origins. That is why she has kept her Chinese name on all her official documents, in spite of some confusing situations she could now face.
Though she says sheâ€™s attached to her American name, her mother and grandmother keep calling her by her Chinese nickname. She consoles herself that no one calls you by your genuine first name in China anyway. Everyone in China gets a nickname according to complicated social codes and she thinks that may be why she is unaffected by continuously alternating Cindy with Binghui, and her American side with her Chinese identity.
â€œI have never been good at adjusting,â€ she says, as she apologizes that becoming an American resident was not an easy story. A paradox for a young Chinese girl who did not hesitate for one second to give up here name integrate into a country she barely knew anything about.