My Korean name is Ki Sun, and I choose not to be ashamed of it anymore

This first-person article is the experience of Priscilla Hwang, a CBC Ottawa reporter who uses her Korean name, Ki Sun. For more information on CBC’s first-person stories, please visit the FAQ.


For most of my life I’ve been ashamed of my name.

Not my anglicized name, it’s what my colleagues and friends have always called me, even if it doesn’t appear on my driver’s license or passport.

My legal name. My Korean name. My real name – the one my grandfather gave me at birth.

황기선.

In English it is written Hwang Ki Sun, or Ki Sun Hwang if you change your surname, which is the structure in many Asian cultures where the surname comes first. It is pronounced “Gkee Suhn” – the first name is like a mixture of “Guy” (the French name) and “key”.

It means to shine brightly with kindness on this earth, always.

Ironically, for most of my life, I wanted to hide my name.

I remember dreading the first day of school, when I had to explain to my new teachers that I had an “English name” by which they could call me, “please and thank you”.

It was the worst when I had a substitute teacher.

“Kee? Kye? Kai … soon?” My classmates laughed, frantically searching around for the mysterious peer they never knew they had.

CBC’s Duk Han Lee created this illustration to capture my feelings as a kid in school when teachers struggled to pronounce my Korean name, Ki Sun. (Duk Han Lee / CBC)

Mortified, I would raise my hand and correct them right away.

“You can call me Priscilla.”

Where does even Priscilla come from?

Growing up, I remember asking my parents why they gave me the name Priscilla when I already had a Korean name.

My mother told me that when we immigrated to Canada (I was three years old), someone suggested that I be called Priscilla, like the woman in the Bible. (Better known here as Elvis Presley’s wife, I quickly learned.)

“When you were about to start school, people said you needed an English name. So I asked a pastor to help me, to give you a name in good faith,” Mr. ‘said my mother, Joung Suk Hwang, on the phone. Korean when I called her to write this piece.

“I thought we had to give you an English name at the time. Looking back, we didn’t really have to do that,” she said.

“And if you say ‘Ki Sun’ to someone here, they have a hard time pronouncing it.

My kindergarten class photo. I am wearing a hanbok, a traditional Korean dress. (Priscilla Ki Sun Hwang / CBC)

It broke my heart a bit to tell my mom that I was relieved to call myself Priscilla and that I grew up ashamed of my Korean name.

It’s not the first time she’s heard that I’m ashamed to be Korean.

There were times I would come home crying and angry because my mom packed me (gimbap) for lunch, best described as a Korean sushi roll. My classmates had laughed at me and I ended up eating it during recess, tears streaming down my face, along with my teacher.

“I was never [embarrassed of your name]”, Replied my mother.” Because the name Ki Sun means our nationality… Pride. We are Canadians, but we are also Canadians of Korean descent. “

WATCH | My choice to recover my Korean name:

CBC’s Priscilla Hwang had a complicated relationship with her Korean name, Ki Sun. She talks about her choice to get it back and what that choice means to her. 1:45

My time in the North

The first time I really confronted my complicated feelings for my name was while living in Yellowknife.

I have reported on the journeys of several people to recover their traditional Aboriginal names.

“Our ancestors, they were born like this – so why can’t we be born with these names?” Denenize Basil said in 2018. He had legally changed his first name to Jacob a few years earlier.

“It’s our birthright,” he said. “In a way, it helped me find myself.”

“[Pingo] were not our grandparents’ [or] … The names of our great-grandparents. It’s just something the government put on our people, ”Anna Pingo told me, after finding out that her last name was supposed to be Pingersugerook or Pingasugruk, the spelling she says is closest. of the Inuvialuktun alphabet.

“I want to wake up [my culture] and say that’s who we are. “

A photo of my messy desk at the CBC North office in Yellowknife, where I previously worked. All my work-related mail is addressed to “Priscilla Hwang”. (Priscilla Ki Sun Hwang / CBC)

After work my mind wandered. I started to think about my name for the first time.

Why do I want to hide it so much? Am I not proud of my language or my culture? Why do I want to conform to the “Canadian standard”? How did I become like this?

The people I have met in the North are struggling to reclaim their traditional names; in the meantime, until then I had seriously considered changing mine legally to my anglicized name. I started to wonder why and what my name meant to me.

My name is beautiful

Growing up in Canada of Korean descent, I hate that I feel less or different because of my skin color, my food, my culture, my manners and my native language. Racist incidents and microaggressions conditioned me to hide the only “Asian” part of me that I could: my name.

For me, Ki Sun symbolized how different I was from everyone else. Priscilla, on the other hand, was a little more accepted here, I told myself.

But they were all lies.

“I don’t think it really matters, what name you call. Because it’s you. You. Ki Sun and Priscilla, it’s you, ”my mom said with a laugh at the end of our conversation.

“Whatever!”

She’s right.

From left to right, my sister, mother and I look out over the mountains of Banff, Alberta. (Priscilla Ki Sun Hwang / CBC)

It’s not easy to flip a switch and wipe out decades of baggage attached to my name.

But thanks to those who have shown me the power to reclaim his identity and culture, I am more and more courageous to identify with Ki Sun as well.

It started small and it’s still a daily process and choice: I added my name to my personal social media accounts last year.

I try not to correct those, like the bank teller and the CRA agent, who call me by my legal name.

I share my name and my story with more people in my life. Today, I add it to my signature.

My name is wonderful. My two names are, in fact.

Together, they represent my journey as a Korean Canadian grappling with her identity.

It took 30 years but I can finally say I’m proud to be 황기선.


Do you have a compelling personal story that can bring understanding or help others? We want to hear from you. Send us an email.

Ottawa morning8:15 a.m.My Korean name is Ki Sun

Priscilla Hwang has a complicated relationship with her Korean name, Ki Sun. After living and working in the Northwest Territories, where some people are struggling to reclaim their Indigenous names, she shared her story about choosing to get her back. 8:15 a.m.


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