Monday, January 16, 2006

Name change should stop the snickers

Fuk King Kwok was waiting for his driver's license to be printed when his name was called and a chuckling Illinois secretary of state employee offered some advice.

"She [said] this is a dangerous name," the Chinese immigrant recalled. "She [said] the name translated is not so good, maybe I should change [it]. The word I hear is not so good."

Not so good, indeed.

That clerk, like so many other Americans who have said his name since he came to Chicago in 1999, didn't pronounce his first name the proper way -- "fook."

Instead, she and the others would pronounce his name with an "uh" sound instead of the "oo" -- in other words, like the granddaddy of all swear words.

"And my middle name is terrible, too," he admitted. "That combination becomes very terrible."

Last month in Cook County Circuit Court -- three years after that clerk offered the advice -- Fuk King Kwok changed his name.

He's now Andy Kwok.

"Before I came to United States, no problems," he said, before nervously laughing. "But in translation to English, it sounds like . . . the word . . . you know ... sometimes language is not so convenient and sometimes I'm embarrassed, you know?"

Best part about U.S.? Privacy

The process of legally changing your name is simple enough. Kwok paid the $328 and filled out the one-page form himself.

A judge's signature made it official and ensured the only time Kwok will hear that word is if he's near someone foul-mouthed.

DePaul University language professor Yingcai Xu said problems like Kwok's aren't common -- and even he gave a slight laugh after writing Kwok's name.

"It could very likely cause a problem," he said, adding it's a Cantonese name that "could mean 20 or 30" things in that language -- none of them vulgar.

"This is a very special case," he said, "because there are not many names, even pronounced wrong, that would lead to any bad sense."

Kwok said that in China, his name translates to "a very good meaning" and nothing at all like that embarrassing pronunciation.

He said he's always liked the name Andy -- "Andrew" even better -- and while living in Hong Kong, sometimes went by it.

The 38-year-old mechanical engineer said he came to the United States for work reasons and "to try to experience different culture."

Despite the pronunciation trouble with his name, he said he likes America, especially Chicago, but most of all, he likes his privacy.

Aware of the potential for "jokes on me," he initially declined an interview request, but remained adamant about declining a photo.

"I'm not public at all," he said.

Ms. Porn reverts to maiden name

Monica Pinas and Mary Jo Porn have something in common.

They are among the hundreds who, in the last few years, have filed documents in Cook County Circuit Court to legally change their names.

Monica Pinas became Monica Star -- and the reason the 21-year-old Chicago woman sought the change came when she appeared before a judge and he, like others, incorrectly pronounced her last name as "penis."

"It's embarrassing," she said.

Porn, meanwhile, decided after a divorce that she'd drop her married name and return to her maiden name of Tavormina.

The 50-year-old Orland Park woman's attorney, Stephen Thacker, said he urges clients going through a divorce to hang on to the right to resume a maiden name, so as to save this kind of separate court action.

Every day, a handful of name changes are filed in Cook County. Most are tied to parental issues, while others can be more personal.

April Showers, 49, became Denise Moore last year, while Boladale Dehinde Adeyemi, 18, became Boladale Anthony Olumide Omotayo Omotoyingo. Both declined comment.


Michael Heard became Godlordkingchrist Heard, but the 58-year-old Chicagoan couldn't be reached to discuss his change.

Last month, Samuel Hicks changed his name to Samuel Adams -- but hardly out of respect for the Revolutionary War hero or because he likes the beer.

The Riverdale man's attorney, Charles Pulliam, said his client has always gone by Samuel Adams and his kids are even Adamses, but his birth certificate, unbeknownst to him, had his father's last name -- Hicks.

His brother, who has always gone by Hicks, found his birth certificate said "Adams" and he changed that around the same time.

"It used to be so common, in days gone by, to call yourself whatever you wanted," Pulliam said. "When people came up from the South, sometimes they didn't have any paperwork."

Chicago Sun Times

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