Evolution of My Name
In the life sciences, evolution is a change in the traits of living organisms over generations, including the emergence of new species. Here, I have to re-define the word “evolution”. Evolution is a change (many changes, not just one) in the name (both first name and last name) of a living organism (myself) over 15 years (much shorter than generations), not resulting in the emergence of new species (I am still the same species).
The evolution I defined did not start until 15 years ago when I came to the United States. I went to Purdue University as a visiting scientist, conducting research in life science. On my first day, I went to the ID Office to get a photo ID card. A lady was working there. She checked my paperwork and then manually typed my name before taking my picture. At that time, most offices did not have computers. After I had waited for a while, the lady handed me my Purdue ID card. While looking at my picture on the card, I though that the lady did a good job because I was smiling in the picture. But when I looked at my name, I noticed that my first name “Zhongjing” was misspelled as “Zhonging”. “Excuse me”, I said, “My first name was misspelled. The middle “j” is missing”. The lady looked at my name on the card and then checked it with the one on the original paperwork I gave her earlier. “Sit down”, she said, “I need to re-take your picture to make a new card”. I did what she told me. After a few minutes, I got my second ID card. This time, I did not care much about my picture in the card. I was more concerned about my name in the card. To my surprise, my first name was misspelled again. “Zhongjing” became “Zhonjing”. The middle “g” was missing. I pointed out where the missing “g” should be. I sat on that chair for another picture before she told me to do so. I quietly sat there while she was re-typing my name. I thought this time she must be able to get it right. When I got the third ID card and looked at my first name, I did not know what to say to her. This time, my first name became “Zhongjng”. The middle “i” was missing. I placed the third ID card on her desk without any words. She looked at the card and became very upset. “This is the last time for me to make your card. No more!”, she said. I looked at her, trying to understand why she blamed me for her mistakes. Because I really did not want to come back again, I decided to help her. I pronounced each letter of my first name slowly and emphasized “gji” in the middle, hoping she could get it right this time. After repeating the same procedure for the fourth time, I finally got the ID card with my correct name, but without the smiling face in the picture.
On the way back to my department, I thought, “this was not fair”. That lady did not think that it was her fault to misspell my name for so many times at all. If it was not her fault, whose fault was it? Certainly, it was not my fault. It was not me to type my name on the card. It was not me to give myself the name. Hey, it should be my parents’ fault. Yes, if they had not given me this nine-letter long and hard-spelled first name, that lady would have spelled my name correctly without trying so many times. Let me call my parents to blame them. “Hello”, my father answered the phone. “Hi, Dad, how are you? I just found out that you made a big mistake many years ago”, I said. “What are you talking about?” my father asked. He was really confused. “You gave me a troubling name at my birth”, I said. Then I told him what happened in the ID Office. After hearing the whole story, my father said, “Well, honey, I don’t think it was my fault. I only gave you your last name “Lu”. Your mother gave you your first name.” “As a matter of fact”, he continued, “Both you and that lady should thank me for giving you the shortest last name. That lady did not have trouble spelling your last name, did she?” We both burst into laughter.
Back in the department, I met several new people. After introducing myself to them, I found my first name also gave them trouble. This time, it was not the spelling. It was the pronunciation. They all had trouble pronouncing the first part of my first name “Zhong” although they had no problem pronouncing the second part of my first name, “jing” (sound like American name “Jean”). Later in the afternoon, the secretary, Norma, called me to go to the main office to sign some forms. Due to the incident earlier in the ID Office, I carefully checked my name on every form and did not find any mistake. I signed all the forms. When I gave Norma back the forms, she asked me how to pronounce my first name. Like other people, Norma also had a problem pronouncing “Zhong”. After practicing a few times, she gave up. “Jing is easier for me. Can I just call you Jing”. I said “sure.” I did not realize that that moment marked the beginning of the evolution of my name. That was on my first day at Purdue University, the first half of my first name was cut off. My first name “Zhongjing” became “Jing”.
The second evolution of my name followed immediately. A new form of my name emerged. Since Norma called me Jing, more and more people around me also called me Jing. As time went by, the evolution continued. Soon “Jing” was misspelled as “Jean”. I had to start to correct the misspelling. Last time in the ID office, I only needed to correct one person. But this time, I had to correct many people in various situations. I realized that the first evolution actually gave a green light to the second evolution. After a month at Purdue University, I was tired of correcting the spelling. I decided to accept the misspelling and to adopt “Jean” as my first name. Since then, I joined “the misspelling population”. Later, my full name was smoothly evolved into “Jean Lu”. I like “Jean Lu” because it was short and easy for everyone. Since then, I started to use Jean (Lu) on many occasions.
After the second evolution, I had no problems with the adopted name “Jean Lu” for many years. I though that the evolution of my name was over. There was no more driving force for further evolution. Three years ago, I accepted my current position as an assistant professor in Biology at UTM. As soon as I moved to Martin, my name got me in trouble again. This time, it was my last name. The first day at UTM, I went to Cashier’s Office to pay my rent. The cashier asked me to spell my name. I spelled my full name slowly, especially my first name. She wrote them down and then said to me “Please spell your last name”. I said “L-U” slowly. She raised her head and her voice. “Please spell your last name”, she repeated. I was puzzled. I did not understand why she asked me three times to spell my last name. “Maybe she has a hearing problem”, I thought. So I also raised my voice and said “L-U”! I never thought that my last name could cause any problem. I was proud of my short last name, especially after the incident in the ID office at Purdue University. Soon I forgot this unusual incident.
A few months later, I went to a local hospital for an annual physical exam. A nurse at the reception desk asked me to spell my name. After I spelled, she said “spell your last name”. This immediately reminded me the incident in the Cashier’s Office. “Gosh, another person with the hearing problem”, I thought. I raised my voice and spelled my last name very slowly, “L-U”. She raised her head, and almost shouted “L-U what?” At that moment, I realized that she expected more letters and my last name was too short for her. Now, I understand why that cashier also asked me to spell my last name so many times. I looked at the nurse and said very slowly to her “L-U, that’s it”. Then I observed another type of evolution. Her facial expression was changed from the original upset to surprising, then to smiling. She apologized for what happened. When I was out of the hospital, I was so frustrated with my name. I called my father. “Dad, my last name also gave me trouble”, I said. “How come?”, my father asked. “It is too short!”, I said. I told him the incidents in Cashier’s Office on UTM campus and in the hospital. My father said “Lu is our family name for so many generations. We have never had any problem with it. What world are you in? I am sorry. I can not help you. You have to figure out a way to deal with the problem, or you can come back to China if you do not have to deal with it.” I felt helpless and hopeless. After hard thinking, I decided to modify my last name if I had to spell it. I would say “L U, that’s it”. This modification works well. I no longer have the same problem in Cashier’s Office, hospital, library, and other places. But at the same time, I was sad. The short last name I was once so proud of now has evolved into a long and weird one, “LU, that’s it”, whenever I spell it out verbally. As a biology professor, I know that all living organisms including myself unavoidably undergo an aging process. I am afraid that as the aging process goes on, some day I may be too old to remember the name my parents gave me at birth because I do not use it often in the daily life. To prevent this from happening, every time after I verbally spell my last name “LU, that’s it”, I remind myself that my true last name is “LU, no more!”
In summary, over the past 15 years, my name (both first and last names) has undergone a complicated evolution from “Zhongjing Lu” “Jing Lu” “Jean Lu” “Jean Lu that’s it”. What an unusual evolution! Thanks to my parents for giving me the troubling name leading to such an evolution! Thank them for never giving me a middle name. Otherwise, the evolution would be more complicated! For those people who know or will know me but do not know the evolution history of my name, it’s hard for them to relate “Zhongjing Lu” to “Jean Lu that’s it”. This article serves as a record of the history of the evolution of my name. I probably have to add this article to my CV as an appendix.
I wish this article could be much shorter than it is now. I hope that the evolution of my name does not continue in the future or in my next generation so that I do not have to add anything to this record. As a scientist, I would like to get back to the right track, to study the evolution of living organisms (not a living organism’s name), and to focus my writing on true life sciences.
Who We Are
Read samples of writing from past faculty participant's seminars.