Growing up, there were times when I absolutely hated my name, and other moments I thanked my parents for bestowing a one-of-a-kind handle on my head. Today, I feel somewhere in the middle: ordering a drink at Starbucks still gives me anxiety over how the barista will butcher my name for my nonfat iced vanilla latte but other times, I feel good knowing that I’m the only Moye (as a first name) that I’ve met so far… at least, in the United States. Please don’t tell me you know another Moye. It’ll make me sad.
I like to think my name represents my identity as an Asian American: foreign at home, common across the Pacific yet ultimately a hybrid of the two, thanks to the weird spelling my parents invented so they wouldn’t have a girl named Moe. Since its actual pronunciation is hard to say in English, I go by a bastardized version of 萌 that somehow came together in elementary school when my teachers wouldn’t know what to call me (other than “Moya”), and I answer to the proper name with my family members and anyone who speaks Japanese. In Japan, it was my mother’s favorite growing up (or so she told me), it was recently a popular baby name, it’s always included in those racks of personalized key chains at souvenir shops and also a type of anime/manga character – though that kind of creeps me out. In America, my name never fits in: it’s weird, it’s hard to say, it means nothing but the uniqueness sets me apart from the crowd.
All of our names tell a story, whether signifying our personal identities as Asian Americans, ethnic culture, family history, a pop culture reference of the time or even a memorable story of our parent’s relationships, struggles and goals. The other 8Asians writers shared the story behind their names:
The story is that my G-Poppa named me. I was expected to be a boy and they had narrowed it down to two boy names with good meaning. And then I was born a girl, and my G-Poppa gave me the one I have, Jee Won. (My younger boy cousin got the other name.)
My full Korean name is Jee Won Suh. The “Won” is a family tradition that all of the Suh kids get (e.g., my sister is Hee Won, brother was Seung Won). My Dad’s generation had one and our generation is “Won,” which means to be the best or something like that. It goes in order of generation so the Suh kids in my generation will get the next one. Supposedly the record is kept in Korea of what is next in line.
The “Jee” of my name means wisdom or wise one. It’s a boy name. Well, rather, Jee Won is a boy’s name. I only discovered it was a boy’s name when I was a teenager and read an article in a Korean magazine about an actress with my same name who was telling the story of how she was given a boy’s name.
My Dad has recently tried to claim he named me, but when I was a kid, I was told my G-Poppa named me and since I respected and loved him so, I would rather consider my Dad having a real bad memory.
I know everyone is DYING to know where Dino-Ray came from. Of course, I got taunted as a child and well into my high school years of sharing the same name with the lovable purple pet dinosaur from “The Flintstones” — but there is, in fact, history when it comes to the origin of my name.
My late grandfather’s name was “Segundino” — and since Filipinos love to cobble up names using parts of people’s names, my mom and dad decided to go with the “Dino” portion. So that’s the first part. My dad’s name is “Froilan”, but when he was in the Air Force, his buddies couldn’t pronounce it correctly — or maybe they felt awkward calling him that. It is strikingly similar to Fraulein Maria a la “Sound of Music.” Perhaps a singing nun isn’t what they wanted to think of when they saw my dad. Nonetheless, they shortened his last name, “Ramos” (my last name) and started to call him “Ray.”
Put the two names together and what do you get? “Dino Ray.”
The hyphen wasn’t added the hyphen until 1988. I thought it would give my name some flair.
Whenever I meet people and am introduced as “Joz,” people ask, “You’re named ‘Jaws’ like the shark?” Actually, Joz is short for Jocelyn and with a virtually unpronounceable name like that (to my non-native-English speaking family members anyway) , I was called a lot of things other than “Jocelyn” while growing up. My grandparents (who all spoke Japanese in addition to Chinese/Mandarin and Taiwanese) all called me: ジョセリン (“Joserin”). In my immediate family, my parents and younger brother usually referred to me as “jie jie” (姐姐), which means older sister. What was funny is that they really called me “jie jie” only when referring to me in the 3rd person– each one of them had their own nickname they used for when they were talking to me directly.
I also have a totally separate Chinese name which I only used during Chinese school or when I went to Taiwan and “Jocelyn” was (again) too hard for people to say. Growing up, I kind of resented having such an odd name, but later came to appreciate it as I got older because it is unusual. Incidentally, I believe I have my father and his love of reading to thank for giving me both my Chinese and English name. People are always commenting about how beautifully my Chinese name “fits” — like a short poetic phrase– with that of my brother’s. So it shouldn’t be surprising that “Jocelyn” was selected for me after he saw it in a book of poetry.
My first name is actually just my dad’s first name, so I’m actually Efren Jr. Among my family, my nickname is “Jun-Jun”, short for Junior. However, there’s another relative who’s also a junior, but he goes by “Jun” within the family so that there’s no confusion. (Yes, this makes absolutely no sense if you’re not Filipino.)
Koji means good/obedient second child — which is a lie! Steven comes from a character on Hawaii 5-0. I know, weird. My immigrant mom must have really loved that show. I use my full name in all my writing for two reasons, one being that sometimes people think I’m not from this country and instead of complementing my writing, they say things like “Wow, you write very well for someone from [I've heard Kenya, Japan, and Korea],” which is annoying because I’m a better writer than they are! And two, because once someone thought I was going to be an Asian woman. Thus, I go by my whole name. No one thinks I’m not from America and/or a woman. And I like it that.
On a side note, I do not make my wife call me by my full name.
My English name, Timothy, comes from my dad. He picked it out when we emigrated to the U.S. After kids teased me about my Chinese name, he chose mine from the bible (as he also chose his own, David). What most people don’t know [about him] is that he was a converted Catholic, and during his later years started practicing some Buddhism again, so it’s a little ironic our names came out of the Bible. When he passed away, my relatives insisted on giving him a full Buddhist burial, which we did.
My Chinese name has an interesting story all its own. My paternal grandfather named me, and I was given the Chinese name “Ri-Zhong” (pinyin). The “Ri”日is the character for sun, and “Zhong” 中 is the character for middle. When I was growing up my parents just called me “Zhong-ah” a pretty common boys name and abbreviation. My mom always used to tell me that my Chinese name wasn’t “traditional”, and that my grandfather was being a little strange or playing a joke when he named me. I never really understood that and I’ve asked some other Chinese folks if they thought my name was strange, but everyone Chinese I’ve talked to insists my name is normal. So for a long time I thought maybe my mom meant it was strange because my dad’s family no longer has their family poem.
More recently I’ve come to realize that possibly my grandfather was playing a joke on my mother. My mom’s Chinese name is “Mei-Yin”, “Mei” for beautiful and “Ying” for brave. The other translation of my mom’s name is literally “America-England”, as America is “Mei-Guo” and England is “Ying-Guo”. And similarly an alternate translation of my name is “Japan-China” as “Ri-Ben” is Japan and “Zhong-Guo” is China, so possibly my grandfather was making fun of my mom’s name, when he named me. All that of course is just my own conjecture.
My American name was chosen because it was the first thing that my parents could think of that was close to my Chinese name. The only connection is probably the “B” part.
I was named after actor Jeffrey Hunter. That’s it.
My English name is Ernest. That is because my dad and his brothers decided that they would name their kids ALPHABETICALLY. That’s right; alphabetically. Angela, Bernard (Really?), Christopher, Darren and me. F was skipped — apparently because they couldn’t think of a good female name that started with F — and went with Grace. Finally, when my uncle had another kid with a different wife, they named him Hubert, destined for a life of torture and getting beaten on the playground.
Why I was Ernest and not Eric, I don’t know. Parents are cruel.
As for my Chinese name Si-Yi, that does come from a family poem, and as a result, everyone A-H has the name Si. The second character, Yi, roughly means “friendship” and goes with the E sound.
My middle name is my Chinese name. All well and good, but because my parents immigrated through Taiwan, we don’t have the pinyin spelling, and my driver license uses a Taiwanese romanization method used during the 60s. As a result, it’s “SHIH-YIH,” and a life time of drunk friends who look at my name and start spasming like a guy with Tourettes.
My name comes from the fact that my two aunts, Janet and Joanne, who came to the states when they were young, couldn’t pronounce my Korean name so they named me and my twin sister “Jennifer” and “Jolene”.
I remember being ashamed of my name (jun-young and just “jun” pronounced like the month “june” hence birthing the 11 other months as nicknames on the bball playground) that i decided to call myself “jay” from elementary to high school. It wasnt until my trips to Korea in HIgh School because of my ailing grandparents, that I ever embraced any kind of Korean-ism in me.
My English middle name – Kevin – was given to me because it sounds somewhat like my given name in Taiwanese. My Mom said my Chinese name, 林啟文, means something like great literature generation or something like that? Funny, I didn’t realize the last character of my name – 文 – was the generational character until I saw a video clip of Yo-Yo Ma on Faces of America ( http://www.pbs.org/wnet/facesofamerica/ ) when he explained how his parents had a little fun with him with his given name to be the same as the generation name. I was like – *oh* – so that is why my brother, and cousins have 文 in all of our names.
My parents are not die-hard Beatles fans; they’re Christian (and specifically, Catholic in 1987). Jude is the book right before Revelation. My full first name is Jude Paul, Paul being from my mom’s name, Paula. My whole name, Jude Paul Matias Dizon, seven syllables long–a bit shorter than standard Filipino names, which I think are supposed to be at least 12 syllables. I pretty much just go by Jude. No one’s ever called me anything else except an uncle who calls me Paul pronounced “Pah-ool.” Often people hear “June” which I absolutely hate because they tend to follow it up with, “Were you born in June?”
Few more favorites: people launching right into song of “Hey Jude,” people asking me if I know the Beatles song and when people greet me in the following way: “Hey Jude! OMG! That’s like the Beatles song. I’m sorry, you must hear that a lot”
My middle name Lee Tan is the Chinese surname combo of my parents. Lee is mom, Tan is dad. I share it with my sister. I figured it was a way to keep lineage and us knowing where we sorta came from considering my legal last name is Miguel. (Because of discrimination against the Chinese in the Philippines, my dad’s name changed so the paperwork would be a much quicker process. Back then, if you were born in the Philippines from Chinese parents, you weren’t Filipino, you were Chinese. My mom kept all her documentation including a picture ID when she was 12 that literally looks like a mug shot. Mom doesn’t have a Filipino passport, it’s Taiwanese. My dad, however, has a Filipino passport.)
So imagine a really huge identity crisis in elementary school when you say you’re Chinese, but your parents are from the Philippines, and you have a Filipino last name. No one can wrap their heads around it. I got a lot of strange looks when I would introduce myself because they would be expecting someone who’s Portuguese, Spanish or Filipino, but instead there was a pale skinned Asian. Anyways, moving along …
My first name is Christina. Mom wanted to call me Michael while I was still in the oven. She’s a devout Catholic – self explanatory. She also gave me my Chinese name “清美“, thinking it was nice to have one. It means, “Light/ Clear Beauty.”
Share the story behind your name, and how it connects you to your APA heritage!