What's in a name: Why I do not use my Chinese name

11:54 am on 1 March 2018

First Person - I don't have the best memories of learning Chinese as a kid.

For a brief period of time my mother taught Chinese classes and I was dragged along to them.

I also remember being a 12-year-old trying to learn the language stuck in a class full of five-year-olds.

I always found it unnecessary, very out of my depth and embarrassed that I knew so little - it was much easier to just leave it altogether.

The only time I used Chinese was to talk to my parents and as far as I knew, it wasn't needed.

My mother always told me, "Your parents are Taiwanese. This is your heritage. Don't forget that."

But this was New Zealand and people didn't speak Chinese.

That was the attitude I had and in many ways and I neglected my heritage until I was in university. In my cohort, I was the only Taiwanese person.

No one ever made me feel like it was a negative thing, but I definitely felt different from my peers. I wondered whether I would feel like I belonged more if I was not Asian.

It's no secret that people working in New Zealand's mainstream media industry do not represent the diversity of the country.

There is no one reason why that is and I'm not here to point fingers, but I realised that as someone of Asian descent, I filled a gap.

I wanted to blend in, but what I needed was to stand out and what I thought was a weakness turned out to be my strength.

It has not been an easy road to figure out who I am though, and as a second generation Asian New Zealander I have walked an odd-in-between line of two worlds.

In Chinese, my given name is Yih Tsyr: The Yih is a part of the word for independent while Tsyr is a part of the word for compassion.

I go by Jessie, and I have been asked why I do not use my Chinese name.

Initially it was because it was just accepted and it made my life a lot easier. Over the years though, I have felt more pressure to use it and claim my identity.

But I have come to realise that Jessie is as much my identity as Yih-Tsyr.

Everyone will have their own opinion about it and I am sure there are people ready to put their two cents in, but I do not feel like I need to use my Chinese name in order to honour and respect my heritage.

Maybe one day I will change my mind and I will ask people to call me Yih-Tsyr, but if that happens it will be because I want to, not because I feel like I need to.

The goal of bringing more diverse voices to mainstream media is not affected by which name I use.

What I do want to spend my energy on, is learning Chinese again, because that is what will really make a difference in the people I am able to speak to.

And this time, no matter how bad I am at, I am hoping I will see it through.