what’s in a name?

Dissertation writers, at the end of the long and arduous process, typically have to go through a final round of ritual hoop-jumping called “depositing.” Most of this involves adhering to complex formatting requirements with a care and precision that I normally associate with handling radioactive or bio-hazardous materials. The title page, in particular, has to be just so.

Because I wanted to avoid hang-ups later in the process, I sent just my title page to my school’s thesis office (yes, a whole office deals with this) in order to make sure everything complied. I was told, among other things, that I had used the wrong name. I had put “Kory Lawson Ching” on my title page, but apparently school records refer to me without my middle name, and was thus told I would have to use only “Kory Ching.”

I have to admit, this rankled me some. I mean, I know what my own name is, and while there may be many things in my dissertation that others could disagree with, I was fairly certain that the author’s name wouldn’t be one of them. I could have fought this by changing my official name with the university, but I didn’t want to get embroiled in a bureaucratic mess that would delay depositing (believe me, this is what would happen). I just wanted to be done.

So, I changed my name on the title page, but it was a little painful to do so. It’s not that I’m worried about database searches finding me, or that the shortened name is inconsistent with the name I’ve already published under. It’s that I consider my middle name an integral part of both my personal and professional identity. “Lawson” is the surname of my maternal grandparents. They had no sons, so I was given their name to carry it forward. I am proud to have done so. Because I was raised by a single mom, my grandparents were like a second set of parents for me. I identify with “Lawson” just as much as I do “Ching.” Perhaps more so.

But, of course, there are all sorts of weird politics mixed up in all this, like the privileging of male surnames in our culture, and I haven’t even touched how this aligns with my multiethnic status. In the end, it’s just a name. I guess I know who I am, despite what it says on my title page.


4 thoughts on “what’s in a name?

  1. Welcome to what women with some configuration of multiple surnames as middle/last names deal with all the time. I’ve gotten really tired of correcting people when I get introduced as if I have a hyphen, or as if my middle/maiden name doesn’t exist at all. Both are wrong. Ask KHO how often this happens to her. For some reason, non-normative naming practices are something people are really dense about. Why can’t a person just be called what they want to be called?

  2. ABSOLUTELY!! I simply cannot believe how difficult it is to have 3 names, though really it’s quite simple–like yours, mine is a first, a middle, and a last, I just like them all, and Kory, for the record, I’ve always liked that you use all three, and I’m very sorry you had to bow to the bureaucracy for your diss!!!

    They let me have all three names on mine, no problem, but this is no doubt only because I’d been through the namechange ringer with the U earlier–and my name was, at various places on campus when I finished, KEH, KH, KEH-O(?!?!), KEO, and KH-O, despite the “official” one being KHO.

    It apparently never ends. WE just bought a house, and the mortgage person first listed my name as KO, but my husband’s as LEO. I was like, um, can we at least squeeze in my middle initial (not much room on the page)? He did, and then later for the “real” paperwork I asked to have my full name, which I explained and spelled. The lawyers later called to make sure my first name was what I’d said it was, and not a much longer version they figured it probably should be (argh). Then the closing. My name was listed as KH-O on some papers, and KO on others, both of which are totally different from a simple KHO. We weren’t sure the papers would be legal, and I had to sign TWO affadavits to “prove” my name was really my name. I had to sign them not only with my real signature, but with two “wrong” ones just in case. So annoying.

    Anyway, I feel your pain, and I promise to always think of you as KLC.

  3. Kim/KHO: You can call yourself whatever you want! I’ve always been a little unsure about referring to friends by name here, since some seem to like their anonymity. Maybe you could just use your social security number…


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