My name is Lichun Huo.
Your first thought may be ‘how do you pronounce that?’ or “ what kind of funny name is that?”. Your thought most likely would not be ‘what a pretty name, or what an interesting name!” While my parents and grandparents meticulously contemplated and chose my name with care, love, and hope, it has been reduced to a cacophony of silverware being thrown at each other in English.
As I navigated through my school years, I dreaded the first day of school, where undeniably every teacher would mispronounce my name followed by snickering & giggling from classmates. Then there would be some male teachers who would laugh at my last name & make fun of it. In middle school, I decided my name was April and started having everyone call me by that name. In high school, I decided to drop the ‘chun’ part of my name and go by ‘Lee’ using the acceptable white American spelling to achieve my ‘Li’ phonetically. I welcomed college with a class size of 1,000 peers where my name will no longer have to be called out loud by the instructor, and I could just be a number.
By the time medical school and residency rolled around, I was more comfortable with my name and patiently guided staff/colleagues to pronounce my last name correctly. During residency, as we rotated to other hospitals, I felt at times like I was back in elementary school. Staff at these facilities would dismiss my guidance on the pronunciation of my last name, and I would be reduced to Dr. ‘H’ or Dr. Lee. Because, and I say this sarcastically, my job was to make them feel comfortable.
We should all be proud of the name given to us by the generation before us. In our name lies their legacy and hope for the next generation. No one should have to feel small and ashamed of their names.
To this day, I am pleasantly surprised when someone asks me the origin of my name and its meaning just because it happens so rarely. Not because I am waiting for someone else to verify my identity and to justify my existence, but simply because I appreciate another person’s curiosity for a different name.
I will tell you.
My surname’s origin belongs to a famous general to the first emperor of China. Legend is that he was a courageous, smart, well-respected man, as a leader should be to lead the emperor’s vast army. He won many, many battles and helped to acquire land for the emperor and China.
My name Lichun is in two parts. Li with the Chinese character means independent (there is another Li, but the written character means beautiful). Chun means warrior. Together my name means an independent warrior. Yup, the name was meant for a boy. But a name I am proud to carry. And it is one that I unintentionally lived into.
I challenge you during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and all the following months to ask a friend/acquaintance/colleague with a “non-traditional” American/English name its meaning. I am sure it will mean a great deal to them. This is a simple step towards understanding and solidarity with the AAPI community.
Dr. Li Huo is a board-certified ObGyn practicing in Los Angeles who’s currently dividing her time between medicine and life coaching. Her interests include fitness, aesthetic trends, women’s rights, equity & healthcare, race relations, and social injustices. She can be followed on IG @glammamadoc