What’s in a (Last) Name?

1112Culture-WhatsInANameBy Sabrina Bong — Now that I am (officially) a middle school counselor, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own middle school experience.

The days of painstakingly writing out my spelling words five times each in “final format” for my English teacher; the hours I spent taking notes on A Wrinkle in Time for my Literature test; the number of pencils and erasers I went through as I took on the challenge of pre-algebra in Math. And as I look back (and shiver) at some of those memories, one is always more vivid than the others.

I’m sure that everyone who reads my posts has seen that I have quite a … unusual last name. Having the last name “Bong” has resulted in many jokes, ripples of laughter, and curiosity. Whenever I introduce myself, people give me this guarded look, as though they are unsure whether I am being serious or if I’m giving out an alias.

When I was in high school, all of my emails would get flagged as “inappropriate” because of my last name (at least the administration had a great sense of humor!) My last name, though a defining piece of who I am and what my heritage is, is also something that occasionally causes me to cringe and wish that I could have a “normal” last name. Whoever laughed at hearing the name “Smith”?  At our house, there have been more prank calls than I can mention.

Middle school, in my opinion, is a major academic transition that can only be overshadowed by the transition from high school to college. In middle school, you leave the security and safety of an elementary school you’ve known since you were five. Suddenly, you have more homework and even more responsibility. This is also the age when social cliques really start to develop. Gossip runs rampant. Students use Facebook and Twitter as a means to degrade others, not to just communicate with their friends. But most importantly, you start that journey of self-exploration. You really start to develop who you are and who you want your friends to be.

And as I thought of all these things, I was struck with a sudden thought: How will I be able to tell my students to be who they are, to be proud of themselves, never to compromise, if I go through life trying to hide what my last name is? How can I give them advice when I myself can’t take it?

So as I slowly close in on the first day as a middle school counselor, I made myself a promise: I was going to be proud of my last name. It may be embarrassing, but it is a name that means something to me. It is the name of my parents, my grandparents, and generations of others before me. I am so proud of my family and where they have come from; I should not be ashamed of it.

Charles Swindoll once said, “There is only one you. Don’t you dare change just because you’re outnumbered!” I hope my students remember that quote … and that their counselor, regardless of her last name, is proud to be herself.

(Ironically, shortly after I wrote this post, I got engaged! But regardless, I will enjoy my last name for as long as I have it.)

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