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When Bill Became Boyang

My parents moved my family to the U.S. when I was four; specifically we moved into some subsidized housing in a less than updated area of downtown Atlanta a.k.a the ghetto. Not really the prettiest place, but we had each other and we had hope. We quickly became friends with some of the other Chinese immigrants in the area, and one of the common ideals or dreams that all of us had was to reach the American dream. To us this meant moving from the ghetto into a house, owning a car, having American friends, enjoying copious amounts of food during the holidays, going on vacations, and in general being one happy American family. We saw what Americans had, and I think there was a real desire to become American.

When I entered school, this American spirit carried over and I began going by the American name “Bill”. This was easier to pronounce, it was a strong and popular name at the time, and perhaps the other kids would be more friendly to me if I wasn’t seen as an Alien, in both senses of the word. I really wanted to fit in. So I’ve gone by “Bill” throughout my time in school.

But recently, I am considering and believing more and more that I should begin using my real name: Boyang.  I feel that I no longer have to try to fit in with my name. By now, I am American. I have American tastes in music, food, and hobbies, and by now most if not all of my friends consider me to be an American citizen by culture. My family has all of the vacation time, cars, and houses that we could ever need, and I am proud to have lived the American dream. Boyang is now very important to me because it is the only thing that, on the surface, ties me back to my Chinese heritage. Boyang tells me how I am different from the other Americans and uniquely identifies me (I don’t know what my parents were thinking, but the name Boyang is not common in Chinese culture either). This is quite a situation reversal from 15 years ago when I was trying to switch into an American name, now I am trying to switch out. “Bill” has done its share of work, I’ve grown up with “Bill”, but soon it will be time to move on, or rather move back.

In this new global age, uncommon names are more common in schools and, more importantly to my future, in the workplace. Where I worked this semester, I was part of a very diverse team in terms of background and names, and I think I would have no problem fitting in if I used my real name. I’ve really thought a lot about this recently. In debating with myself this name change, the main con that I see is that it will cause a lot of confusion to my classmates currently. I think the best idea at this point is to continue introducing myself as “Bill” in college, but slowly transitioning over to Boyang as I graduate and meet new people in the workplace. Maybe I am thinking too much about this. What are some of your thoughts about this idea?

I even found an interesting article about a famous person who has undergone a similar transition. Could you imagine if our President was named Barry? (

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May 22, 2011 | | Comments are closed for this post

1 Comment to When Bill Became Boyang

This is an interesting thought. I don’t think it matters much as long as you behave as what you are. I am a PhD student in Dr. Freeman’s group, in which there is another student named Qiang who also moved into the US at his young age. He was TAing for a ChE undergraduate class this spring semester. I don’t know if you have met him before, but you may talk to him for some suggestions in case you get a chance to meet him sometime.

June 29, 2011
— Wei Xie
photo of Bill