Sunday, October 15, 2006

What's in a Name by Lisa Hsu

What’s in a name?
by Lisa Hsu

Everyone has name ever since we were born, no matter who give you the name or whom you are named after. The functions of names are powerful and they tell stories.

Names can tell stories. Take my father’s name as an example; “Hsu Jin Wang” is a very old-fashioned, traditional Chinese name. I ever asked my father whether he likes his name or not. My father told me that he never liked his name but since the name is given by his father and is followed the family lore. He never wanted to change it. Hsu is the family name, it represents that we come from Ilan and we belong to Taiwanese ethnic group. We are not Hakkanese or Aborigine. The middle name “Jin” follows the family lore which is base on a rule of genealogy. Every male who is born in my father’s generation must share the same middle name, Jin, means “to take in” in Mandarin. According to the family lore, my uncles’ names are not difficult to guess. They are Jin Fa, Jin Tsai, Jin Jei, and Jin Fu. The last character of each name is given based on the expectations which my grandfather wishes his sons to have. He names his sons as Fa, Tsai, Jei, Fu, Wang in the hope that he wishes his sons can make a good fortune, have the best luck of everything and then let our family has good reputation. As my father learned the meaning of his name, he never wanted to change it because his name preserves his heritage, shows the expectations of his father, connects him to the family and in a way, shows his respect.

Name is powerful for its functions such as claiming and preserving heritage, representing identity, showing ethnic pride, symbolizing culture and language and influencing others’ perception of us. For instance, my experience with an Albanian friend is quite interesting. The first time we met he said “I personally don’t like Chinese much and I hope you are not Chinese.” I must admit that I introduce myself to him with a very great pride because I felt offended at the moment. I am always proud of my oriental look and name that embraces my ethnicity and I never think that Caucasian is the higher race than Asian or any others. I replied “My name is Hsu Ling Chiech in Chinese, Ko Ling Geh in Taiwanese dialact and Lisa Hsu in English, pure soul in meaning.” Surprisingly, he didn’t not feel offended by my attitude but he was very delighted to learn that I am a Taiwanese because Taiwan Government has supported Kosovo during their civil war and has given financial add and help developing their country after the war. My Taiwanese name influenced his perception for oriental look people and, in my point of view; it’s not because of the name but because of the functions which names embrace that change the perceptions. Just like the biographer Justin Kaplan said, “Names have more than simple label value.”

As people know the power in the functions of names, many are fetching their names back. Some change their names to trace back their root, some do so to enrich the ethnicity of their names, and some change names because the fortuneteller told them that their names bring bad luck to their lives. Whatever the reason is, we must bear respect in mind. Globalization has made our world a smaller place, people move from one place to another. Almost every country is multicultural society nowadays. The notion of having homogeneity is changing into having pluralism, in other words, it’s time to change the melting pot notion into the salad bowl. Isn’t it good to be able to taste every ingredient in the dish instead of stewing them together and become one flavor? Only when we know the flavor of each ingredient we will be able to know what the best dressing for the salad is. The answer is yet very simple, just as my father mentioned, “Name tells who you are and whatever you belong, after knowing the depth of it, respect yours and respect others.”

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