What’s in a name?

black and white photo of a question mark over someone's face

As many immigrants will agree, it can be frustrating to have a first name that is difficult to pronounce for speakers in your new country. Second generation immigrants can also encounter this frustration, perhaps more frequently because they may or may not be fluent in their parents’ native tongue. For some people, the solution is to create a nickname for their native name that is either short, an easy-to-pronounce anglicism, or chopping their name to one that resembles a common Western name.

In elementary school, a Korean student transferred to our school. Excitement among my classmates was high as we wondered who they were, why they were here, and who would befriend them first. For about an hour, we called him David. By lunchtime, we were calling him by his Korean name Keewan because he was too flustered and overwhelmed by the transition that he kept forgetting “David” referred to him. As it turns out, using his birth name didn’t prove to be too big of a shift for our English-speaking classroom. We were too distracted by his big smile and hearty laugh to care whether he was “David” or “Keewan”.

I have since spoken to other immigrants who came to Canada and were advised to select a “western name” before arriving. The advice often came from family members or friends who had already immigrated to the country. I thought this perspective on “blending in” was really interesting. Albeit picking a new name to sound more western (white) is a plausible solution, it definitely made a lot of immigrants feel like their new “western” name was representing a new identity in a new land.

The discrepancy between having a birth name and an “immigrant name” is quite common among new Canadians.

This made me ponder: what exactly is a name?



I Googled my name recently to see if my WordPress blog would be one of the top hits. In actuality, I found that http://www.juliedam.com was taken by another Julie Dam from the USA. I couldn’t help but peruse her site and feel taken aback by the fact that we had similar interests:

  • Julie Dam from New York has similar career interests as I do but she is more experienced and well-established. I’m still crawling through the budding phase.
  • We’re both passionate about writing and oddly enough, New York’s Julie Dam has a career doing consulting in content strategy and strategic communications—both of which are fields of marketing that interest me greatly.

So given the almost freakish similarities between New York’s Julie Dam and I, how much does a name really define who you are as a person?

Reader, who are you?

Special thanks to Julie Dam from New York for granting permission to be mentioned in this post. It’s a small world after all! 

Marathoning Life

CN Tower, Toronto Canada
Would you run up the stairs of the CN Tower? Photo: Frank Parhizgar, WWF-Canada

I’ve never been a very athletic person. I enjoy walks, hikes, skating, and other forms of exercise that “get me places”, but I’ve never been one to train for a competition or develop a physical skill. I decided to change that last year. I thought to myself, “I’m going to run a marathon!”

A friend of mine participated in the Mississauga Marathon a few years ago, so I contacted her and asked her if I could tag along. While discussing event options for our run, we came across the World Wildlife Foundation’s CN Tower Climb. It seemed like a great challenge for a wonderful cause, so we decided to try it.

Shortly after I started my training, I realized it was a terrible, terrible idea. I was in way over my head.

The CN Tower Climb involves running up the emergency staircase of The Canadian National (CN) Tower. This structure is 553.3 m-high, the highest free-standing structure in the western hemisphere.

In 1995, the CN Tower was classified as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The CN Tower shares this designation with the Itaipu Dam on the Brazil/Paraguay border, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Panama Canal, the Chunnel under the English Channel, the North Sea Protection Works off the European coast, and the Empire State Building.

Since the Tower opened, Canadians and tourists from around the world have made the trip to Toronto to celebrate this marvel of civil engineering. Besides serving as a telecommunications hub, the Tower provides world-class entertainment and a wide range of unique attractions, exhibits and food and beverage venues.

— Excerpt from http://www.CNTower.ca

CN Tower Climb participants climb 1,776 steps up a staircase made of metal lattice. There aren’t any formal pitstops along the way, just staircase landings for individuals to pause momentarily. Once you start the climb, you can’t give up and take an elevator. The only access to elevators are on the ground level, where participants start the climb, and on the observation deck at the end of the climb. My initial enthusiasm for completing the climb ended shortly after doing some thorough research into the CN Tower Climb and suggested training regimes which were very vigorous, to say the least. I had come to my senses regarding the challenge at hand and my premature enthusiasm for the climb.

A year and a half later I’m still not ready to complete the CN Tower Climb, but I’ve settled for more reasonable milestones. I completed my first 5km run in June 2017 with the simple goal of not finishing in last place. In September 2017 I committed to hiking to Machu Picchu during my trip to Peru and subsequently spent a lot of time hiking, walking, and climbing up the stairs of various Incan ruins.

Going forward from here, I’ve signed up for the Mississauga Marathon in May to complete a 10km run, this time with a goal to finish in the top 50%. If I had been more committed, I know that I could’ve aimed for a more challenging goal, but I can’t overestimate my physical capabilities.

Instead, I’ve decided to channel my enthusiasm towards a different kind of goal. As part of the Scotiabank Charity Challenge with the Mississauga Marathon, I aim to raise $100 for The Riverwood Conservancy, a nature conservancy in Mississauga where I spent a few summers learning about conservation, local flora, and invasive plants. You can support me by donating here: https://secure.e2rm.com/registrant/FundraisingPage.aspx?registrationID=3996246&langPref=en-CA

I think the moral of this story is that it’s fine to chase your goals but be sure to build a bridge along the way. Thanks for reading!