Mistaken Identity: Being Called The Wrong Name For 3 Years
Start writing a post
Politics and Activism

Mistaken Identity: Being Called The Wrong Name For 3 Years

How everyone called me the wrong name for three years because I'm Asian and how nothing's changed since then.

Mistaken Identity: Being Called The Wrong Name For 3 Years

Everywhere I went in my elementary school when I was in the 3rd grade, teachers and staff called me Caitlyn. Even the school nurse, after spending several minutes trying to find the medicine she was holding for me among the rows of labeled bottles, turned around and said, “I just can’t find it, Caitlyn, none of these has your name on it!"

"My name's Renea," I corrected her.

She looked embarrassed before her face turned to anger. She huffed, “Well, why didn’t you say so, then?”

My parents and I were already settled into life in Florida. Things still felt a little foreign and a little far away—we had moved here only a few years ago after the military stationed my dad at Eglin Air Force Base. It was my first time going to a public school in the United States. I was shy and making friends had always been scary. I found myself wanting to blend into the background and assimilate, fearing that failure would result in some kind of consequence which I couldn’t yet define. Most things were the same as what I had been accustomed to growing up in Korea and going to school on a US Air Force Base: anthem in the morning, times tables, “Daily Oral Language”, awkward videos about why tobacco will kill you, and making paper fortune-tellers with groups of girls. The quintessential American grade school experience.

Then there were other things that I just wasn't used to.

Like when a girl in my class with dusty blonde hair and blue eyes who I had just met on the first day of school turned to me after hearing my mom speak to the teacher in her Korean accent and strained English and said incredulously, “Can you understand what your mom is saying?!”

I said yes, much to her surprise.

This was in the first grade. By the third, I had succeeded in forcing a fist out of my shell, leaving a gaping hole large enough that I had a few close friends and joined the others in playing tag at recess, at least. One of the girls I played with was named Caitlyn. I was never close friends with her but had the kind of relationship where we would talk at lunch and wave at each other in the hallway, and if there was an apocalyptic event of some kind, I’m sure we would have hesitantly teamed up and formed a strong bond through shared trauma or something.

Anyway, Caitlyn was Asian. I don’t even remember if I knew she was Asian when I first met her, and if I did, it was a small and inconsequential memory that didn’t last the test of time. What I did notice, however, was that she was sweet and funny and cheerful and absolutely beautiful, with long wavy black hair and deep eyes that lit up whenever she smiled, which was often. At the time, I considered what I felt for her to be only admiration—now when I look back, I know that I had been developing a crush on her. So when I was eight and I noticed that several ladies who worked in the office, a few teachers, the nurse, and the janitor, all called me ‘Caitlyn’, my first naîve, gay thought was, “Wow, do people really think I’m pretty enough to look like her?

By the time I left the United States in the fourth grade to move back to Korea, I had corrected enough people enough times that nobody called me Caitlyn anymore—at least, not in front of me. It’s still shocking to me that the entire time I went to that school, I was never able to make the connection that the overwhelmingly white faculty and staff couldn’t distinguish between me and Caitlyn simply because we were the only two Asian girls in the school. I had always assumed that we just looked alike.

We didn’t. Her hair was much darker than mine, she was shorter than me, I had a bigger build, our faces looked very different, our families came from different countries, one of my parents is white and neither of hers are; the list goes on and on. I wore dresses and blouses every day (and hated my mom for it), while Caitlyn wore nothing but jeans and t-shirts. Not only that, but we acted nothing alike either. She was outgoing and I was shy, she talked a lot and I was soft-spoken. We weren't even in the same class or seen together often.

When I think back to why I ever thought we looked alike, I realized that it was souly because everyone told me so.

This strikes me as not just bizarre, but unsettling. How many other acts of racism and bigotry did I experience and internalize without ever being aware of it? How many times did an adult erase my individuality or humanity because of my race before I was even old enough to understand the significance of race? How many times did I accept lies and misinformation, even about myself, as fact because I was just too young to know?

Before I could even imagine how to spell “dehumanizing”, I was already experiencing the meaning of the word. Not much has changed since then—the other day at a party, a drunk white girl called me “Nora” for several minutes before she realized that Nora, the only other Korean American girl present, was actually on the other side of the room. She's the fourth or fifth person out of our mutual friends to have mistaken us for each other.

We don't look alike. Eleven years and my mistaken identity never really went away—it just changed names.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

Leaving My Backpack In The Library

Views about society and the stranger sitting right across from me


As a college student, my backpack is an extension of myself in many ways. It contains my notes, pens, and computer vital for my success in college. It contains the snacks and water bottle I need to survive long days on campus. It also contains the "in-case" items that help put my mind at rest if I forgot something from home: extra hair ties, masks, and that backup-backup snack. With so much in my backpack important to me and my life on campus, it is no wonder that I can get apprehensive about it when it is not with me or in my line of sight. And that makes me wonder.

Keep Reading... Show less

5 Cool Gadgets To Make Your Car Smart

Don't let this stop you from making your car smart. You can change the one you have using smart gadgets that transform your car into a smart car.


Cars are no longer just a mode of transport, where you only worry about the engine and how beautiful its interior is. These days, everyone wants to make their cars smarter, those with advanced technology systems. It makes sense for several reasons. It can make your vehicle more efficient and safer when you need to drive.

Keep Reading... Show less

The Inevitable Truth of Loss

You're going to be okay.


As we humans face loss and grief on a daily basis, it's challenging to see the good in all the change. Here's a better perspective on how we can deal with this inevitable feeling and why it could help us grow.

Keep Reading... Show less

'Venom: Let There Be Carnage' Film Review

Tom Hardy and Woody Harrelson lead a tigher, more fun sequel to 2018's 'Venom'

Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Entertainment – YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FmWuCgJmxo

When Sony announced that Venom would be getting a stand-alone movie, outside of the Tom Holland MCU Spider-Man films, and intended to start its own separate shared universe of films, the reactions were generally not that kind. Even if Tom Hardy was going to take on the role, why would you take Venom, so intrinsically connected to Spider-Man's comic book roots, and remove all of that for cheap action spectacle?

Keep Reading... Show less

'The Addams Family 2' Film Review

The sequel to the 2019 reboot is an enjoyable, but unremarkable start to the Halloween movie season

Photo Credit: MGM – YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kd82bSBDE84

There's a reason why the Addams Family have become icons of the American cartoon pantheon (although having one of the catchiest theme songs in television history doesn't hinder them).

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments