The Dilemma of Names

“Hey Q, how is it going?”

I do not know since when this monosyllabic letter became the symbol of me. I even experience the cocktail party effect, which describes the case when people can hear their names in others’ conversation.

Maybe it’s human’s great adaptive flexibility, or it is just too hard to teach foreigners to pronounce my name or to find an English name.

I hate to disappoint nice Americans who want to learn and practice my names correctly. But to be honest, Quan (pronounced not as the “quan” in “quantity”) and Zhi are formidable to pronounce because there are no equivalent or similar syllables in English. Without exception, everyone who tried ended up calling and remembering me as Q.

At first, I wanted an English name that can complement my Chinese name — having the same initial letter or similar pronunciation as my first name. However, there are not many choices for these weirdo: Q and Z.

I know that an easy name is crucial in getting around in America, especially the first few weeks. When everyone is overwhelmed by a jumble of new names and faces, the shortest and sweetest always win. So at first, I was determined to find myself a Western name. After some careful research and selection, I chose Aris, and persuaded myself to stick to it. However, whenever the time for introduction or ice-breaker came, an inner voice protested within me. I dreaded to utter it, and had no clue where that squeamish unease came from. When the two syllables were pronounced, I felt some detachment from myself — it didn’t feel like me! And worse yet, when people called me Aris, it could take me a few seconds until I gave them that blank look and realized, “oh, that’s me.”

In the end, I just gave up with the idea of having a Western name. I knew that my Chinese name does not really fit into this society, and it might give me inconvenience. But I do not want to lose my name.  And more importantly, I don’t want to lose my identity for the sake of fitting into a new culture.

To make things easier, I chose to go by the first letter of my name, which retains part of me. Names are not just symbols, but also carriers of the good wishes of my parents, of my past memories, and what is me.

“Hi, my name is Quanzhi, and you can call me Q.”

Quanzhi Guo

Quanzhi Guo

Quanzhi Quo is a sophomore at Colgate University. You can contact Quanzhi Guo at