NYU student Aria Young wins NPR College Podcast Challenge

LS sophomore Aria Young explores how she learned to embrace her Chinese name and identity after she moved to the United States in her podcast “What’s in a Name.” The podcast was chosen as the winner of a National Public Radio competition.

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Aria Young, a sophomore in NYU’s Liberal Studies program, produced the winning entry in NPR’s 2022 college podcast competition. (Photo by Jenessa Lu)

Joyce Li and Ruby Tess Naylor

LS sophomore Aria Young’s podcast “What’s in a Name” won NPR’s 2022 College Podcast Challenge. In her podcast series, Young, who has previously written for WSN, discusses her experience changing her Chinese name to an English one after moving from Shanghai to Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Young’s podcast focuses on her reclamation of her Chinese name, Yáng Qìn Yuè or 杨沁悦, which she changed to Aria when she moved to the United States at the age of 16. Young won $5,000 after placing first among ten finalists and many more entries from 37 U.S. states.

“I was thinking about my cultural identity — that’s something that’s really important to me,” Young said. “Being a Chinese person in America, it’s something that’s getting talked about more, but when I first got here, it was not really present in my life.”

After Young moved to Pennsylvania for high school, she decided to change her name because she said it was too difficult for her American peers to pronounce. Young said each character of a name has a specific meaning in Chinese culture. The first character of her name, 沁 (qìn), means “to seep,” and when separate, the left half means water and the right half means heart. The second character, “悦 (yuè), signifies happiness.

“That’s what my parents wished for me,” Young says in her podcast. “To be gentle, pure, and nurturing like water, to have a brave and kind heart, and to be joyful, happy and carefree.”

Young said that although she felt uncomfortable embracing her identity when she first moved to the United States, her name now helps her remain connected to her culture and heritage. Her journey in accepting her identity led her to choose the topic of her podcast.

“To me, being in America, the name to me means my identity, that’s who I am,” Young said. “That’s who I was growing up. For the longest time, that’s who I was and that’s how people knew me. That means culture and heritage to me, and it’s really a beautiful thing.”

In one part of the podcast, Young asks three of her friends to explain the meanings behind their Chinese names. Tisch sophomore Senaida Ng, one of the interviewees, said that her name, Wǔ Sī Xíng, roughly translates to “think five times before you act.”

“I remember hearing the podcast for the first time I cried,” Ng said. “I feel like Chinese people aren’t accepted here because we have to change our names, because it’s ‘too hard to pronounce.’”

Young knew she wanted to enter the NPR competition when she heard about it from her friend. She said that she was involved in television news broadcasting in high school, where she developed an interest in audio storytelling.

“Before doing this podcast, I never acknowledged to myself what it means for me to reclaim my name and reclaim my heritage,” she said. “But through this podcast, I was able to really go on this journey for myself, by myself.”

Contact Joyce Li and Ruby Tess Naylor at [email protected]