What’s In a Name?

I’ve always been that kid in class. Not the troublemaker, or the class clown, or even the teacher’s pet (well, sometimes). No, I knew that people knew my name because they didn’t know my name. I always held my breath when teachers took roll and read out the last names starting with C because I knew there would be an inevitable pause between they would blurt out some semblance of a response. My existence since Pre-K has been an endless series of introductions, reintroductions, requests to pronounce my name, requests to spell it out, comments of “I’m not even going to try with this name”.

Before I go any further:

Chai, like chai tea.

Sue, like “I’ll sue you if you get my last name wrong one more time.”

Som, like “Honey, I’m home!”

Boon, like the word “boon”.

Put it all together (it’s pretty phonetic) and you get my last name, Chaisuesomboon.

Translated, it means “completely innocent heart” which if you know me, is completely accurate.

My full name, Tanarut Thomas Chaisuesomboon, clearly indicates my immigrant background. My first and last name are originally Thai, spelled with Thai characters and inflected with Thai tones. My middle name is English, a way for me to choose to blend into the non-Thai world my parents brought me into.

I’ve been calling myself Tommy since I learned to speak English at 3. It’s funny to think how the name I go by might have been out of convenience for my teachers in Pre-K. There are times when I get called by Thomas because whoever’s doing the calling doesn’t even bother trying to pronounce either of my names. I get it, 14 letters is longer than most last names. But my first name, Tanarut? That’s 7 letters in a very simple pattern. People don’t realize that Tommy’s not my real name. People also think that Tommy is a substitute name (“Tanarut also starts with T so that’s why you’re called Tommy, right?”), and not a real nickname of my actual middle name.

Although I don’t go by Thomas, I am wracked with questions on how I should name myself moving forward. I’m still known as Tommy in most circles, Tom in a few (though that’s my dad), Moo to my parents, and Tanarut or Thomas to no one. But I sit here wondering if I should be prouder of my full name, that even though employers might think I’m more foreign than I actually am, that I should be secure in the uniqueness and history held in my name/

It’s sometimes a hassle trying to spell it out, bubble it, and repeat it ad nauseum for people that want to feel satisfied with learning the bare minimum about my last name without attempting to give me the respect of learning it. But then I realize that I don’t quite think there is another Tanarut Thomas Chaisuesomboon in the world and that’s fine with me.

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