For a lot of immigrant families, names are a lot more than the way we like to be addressed. A lot of us also have multiple names – one in our native tongue, and one that is Anglicized.
My Chinese name, 瑞佳 (rui jia), literally means “lucky” and “good.” My last name, 宋 (song), simply comes from the Song Dynasty (but no, sadly I am not part of the royal lineage). Conveniently, it also sounds a lot like my English name! Ra(ray) – chel(chul) and rui(rooay) – jia(jeeah). But apart from that, I never knew what my name really meant. Until recently, my name just seemed like a hodgepodge of phrases from a Chinese fortune teller. Phrases like “success,” “wealth,” and “fortune” – you know, the things you wish for on Lunar New Year. But over the winter, I finally asked my parents how they decided on my name.
Turns out, the intention behind my name has a lot to do with the meaning of my sister’s name, 瑞伊 (rui yi). The first character of my name, 瑞 (rui), was chosen to match the first character of my sister’s name. Just like how a lot of siblings have alliterating English first names (e.g. Emily and Eric, Jessica and James), we have “alliterating” Chinese names.
The second character, 佳 (jia), was chosen because it’s a homophone with several characters: 家 (jia) and 加 (jia). 家 (jia) means ‘family’ and ‘home’ and carries ‘inward’ connotations, while the second character of my sister’s name, 伊 (yi), meaning ‘start’ and ‘beautiful,’ has ‘outward’ connotations. My name is also symbolic of our family’s immigration to California. As the first member of my family to be born in California, the second character of my name is also a homophone with the Chinese word for California 加州 (jia zhou).
This conversation happened at a time when, quite frankly, my parents and I did not see eye-to-eye. Studying at a liberal arts college, pursuing a major like psychology, and doing community work has created a rift between us and I believed we had uncompromisable differences between what I believe my purpose to be and what my parents’ envisioned my purpose to be. But in learning about the intentionality behind my name, and how I’m connected to family’s genealogy, I’m beginning to view my education in a different light… in the way that my parents understand it.
Thank you Mom and Dad.
By Rachel Song, PO ’18
Image Source: http://korbuddy.com/%EC%9E%AC%EB%AF%B8%EC%9E%88%EB%8A%94-%EC%82%AC%EC%8B%A4%EB%93%A4-2%ED%8E%B8/