MISUNDERSTOOD: names & accents: Jihsu Rhyu ‘20

Jihsu Ryu

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My first name in all its Korean glory is Jih Su, and is pronounced like the phrase “Gee Sue.” According to my mother, the translation of my name is outstanding wisdom. I remember the warm feeling of pride spreading throughout my chest when she explained the meaning of the name that was all too foreign to my peers, teachers, and myself. As years went by, though, the pride I had once associated with my name began to wear off and I was left with discomfort and boredom, tired of repeating its pronunciation and the outstanding wisdom shtick.

My middle name, Juliana, was given to me by my father simply because he thought it was pretty. When my closer friends, who knew my middle name, asked me why I didn’t use Juliana as my “American” name, I couldn’t articulate my feelings towards it. I never hated it, but I never liked it. It was just another uncomfortable aspect of my identity, but one that I could hide.

But to everyone who knows me now, my name is JJ. Ever since I decided to rebrand myself in the basement classroom of a Writopia summer course before sixth grade, JJ has been the persona I have identified with. There has been a certain freedom that has come with the name over the years—a sort of opportunity to absolve myself from certain stereotypes that can come with my appearance. JJ is the freedom to be the cool Asian girl, the tough chick, a comedic relief, the relatable one. As much as the nickname allows me to skirt past the sentiments of “But where are you really from?” and “Wow, I’m not going to even try with that one” that I sometimes get with Jih Su, I am still bombarded with questions like “What does that stand for?”

Before I was called JJ, I was never very comfortable at my elementary school. I didn’t have many friends besides the only other Asian girls in my class. Within this group, we were three Koreans and one Chinese. I had failed at being friends with the majority of Italian and Jewish kids who I shared classes with, all who seemed to be the embodiment of the roots of my middle name that I had never been able to fully associate with before.

My name is Jih Su Juliana Ryu, but you can call me JJ.