Posts Tagged ‘names’

What’s in a name?

In which we talk about identifiers, race, magic, will shaping energy shaping matter shaping will (you mean, like magic?), goalposts that don’t stay put, and all that good stuff.

Or, in short, boundaries.

It’s interesting how almost everything in my life lately can boil down to that one thing: boundaries.

I’ve changed my English name a couple of times in my life.

I went by Jennifer at one point. Jenny for short for slightly longer than that. Then Tina during my middle-school-high-school phase, then Ting in college.

Jennifer, if I remember correctly, was because I identified so deeply with a character in a book I read that I insisted on being called that. I don’t remember which Jennifer from which book, which is a complete tragedy, but I seem to recall her being smart, kind, and very brave.

I was never terribly fond of the name itself though, oddly. Now, Jennifer feels a bit too stiff, a bit too proper, a bit too ruled for my taste. When I think of a Jennifer, I think of a blonde, blue eyed girl with good grades and long hair in a prep school uniform.

I went by Tina when I moved to China because it was similar to my Chinese given name, but it never really clicked either. It was always a sort of placeholder, something for people to call me while I had no idea who I really was and who I was growing into. It was a name chosen hastily, without thought, because I’d been going by my Chinese name for three years prior. Tina feels outspoken, maybe a bit brash, and not in the least bit shy. She also feels a bit truncated, perhaps hiding parts of her personality, perhaps hiding from the world.

When I applied to college, I tried to go by Leria. I’m not sure where I found this name and why. Maybe from Laria, which can apparently mean “the stars are mine”, except I’ve always been more fond of e than a.

Who knows at this point? (reasons to keep a diary #1999992)

Leria failed miserably.

Tamutenda, one of my first friends in college, flatly refused to call me by Leria: “Your mother didn’t name you that.”

I tried to point out that my mother certainly never named me whatever their pronunciation of Ting-Jung was either, but that didn’t fly.

I continued to try to insist and continued to fail. Probably because I kept answering to Ting. (here’s a note for why boundaries are important)

Things came to a head when E, my best female friend at the time, said that she couldn’t possibly call me Leria because it was too close to Laria, which was the name of her brother’s girlfriend and I gave up. Or did I give up because my boyfriend was also supremely not-on-board with the idea?

Who knows for sure at this point?

Slight tangent: I wonder why it’s completely “acceptable” to make fun of Asian names into adulthood when it’s not quite the done thing for “normal” names? (the answer probably has everything to do with racism)

Now, many years from college-freshman-me, I wonder how much of their objection was rooted in racially charged anxieties?

The distaste for what could be perceived as self-erasure by taking on a “Western” name, perhaps? Disdain for someone “taking the easy way out” or “succumbing to Westernization” or “bowing to the man”? (we’ll talk appropriation/assimilation/borrowing later)

The sense of encroachment? These names are okay for you immigrants to use; those are not? These names are okay for white people, but not for you?

Thene was surprised at one point at my desire to take on an English name and my preference for Chinese people who maneuver globally to take an English name. She mentioned a friend of hers talking about how his family member was forcibly re-named by the authorities when he immigrated.

E expressed her “surprise” and “found it funny” when she heard that her cousin had met a Taiwanese girl who called herself Giselle. When prompted as to why that was worthy of surprise and discomfort, she said that it didn’t feel like an appropriate choice for an Asian girl.

I didn’t argue with my friends because what I didn’t truly realize back then was that names are important.

More than one school of thought and magic has posited that when you name a thing, you have control over it, that you can either bring it into being, bind it, or banish it.

When a Chinese child is born, oftentimes the natal chart is drawn and consulted (Asian natal chart, btw, which measures out the weight of your bones to tally your fortune in life), and a name is chosen based on the elements of the words (gold, fire, water, earth, wood) to complement or balance out the elements of the child. Number of brush strokes to form the words are also important, because magic. The meaning of the words matter, as well as whether a word is seen as feminine or masculine. Dragon, for example, although acceptable for my name according to number of brush strokes, is considered way too masculine for a girl’s name. Way way way way way too masculine.

All of this is weighed and considered because we believe that to name a child is to shape a child, that a name will influence the child’s fortune and destiny.

Superstition and folklore and cultural belief aside, names are important because what a person names you defines their perception of your worth.

Names are important because it is your choice what you wish to be, your choice what reverberations you wish to send out into the world to herald your presence, your choice what messages are sent when a person calls for you.

When I returned to Taiwan, I decided to change my Chinese name after being called by it for a while. The name I was given didn’t suit me or my goals anymore and I didn’t like how it was written and it just bothered me.

My parents were supportive while I ran through word options and consulted a natal chart reader and wavered back and forth on which elements I truly needed versus wanted and the whole show. It helps, I’m sure, that about half of my family changed their names when I was in high school and almost all of my cousins have done it at some point.

Their willingness to allow me that choice, that expression of self and need and desire woke me to another facet of love and boundaries.

That isn’t me. That isn’t who I want to be. This is what I want to be called now. This is what you will call me because it is my choice.

It is my choice, not yours.

So no. I reject your perception that x and y and z aren’t names for Asian girls. I reject your unwillingness to respect my choice about what I’m called. I reject your thoughts on what is desirable for me and what paradigm of immigrant culture purity you think I should adhere to. I reject the baggage of those who came before me even if I acknowledge their back-breaking tragedy. I reject the boxing up of myself into politically correct, culturally desirable, easy to chew, digestible candy bits.

I like the name Aikaterine, although I’ll probably choose something more like Katheryn or Kathryn if I ever get around to legally changing my name in the US. (difficult to do all that when not in the US)

There’s a whole slew of variations that I’m happy to be called by and I figure anyone who has an opinion (or an asshole) can pick a variation and run with it.

That’s the extent of freedom I’m willing to allow others in what to call me.

Aikia. Katsiaryna. Katerina. Kata. Katka. Katje. Katri. Kaja. Kaitrin. Kathe. Kait. Katre. Katia. Kasia. Kaisa. Katika.

Pick one. Deal with it.

I’m not answering to Ting anymore.

Because that’s not me. It’s never been me.

Call me torture (like Thene) if you must have something that begins with a T.