Hey there! I'm Vivian. Sometimes I write about life and sometimes I write about teaching.

Like many Chinese-Americans, I have two names: my English name and my Chinese name. My English name is Vivian, supposedly after the actress Vivien Leigh because my mom* loved the movie Gone With the Wind. (I loved the book myself as a high schooler and I’m embarrassed to say how long it took me to realize how racist the book and movie are. But I know better now.) This origin story is suspect because this movie came out in 1939. I was born in 1971. My mother was born in 1950 and emigrated to the US in 1970. Where did she see this movie? It wasn’t uncharacteristic of my mother to make up stories. Growing up I hated my name. I could never find my name on the keychain turnstile at Disneyland. The only other famous Vivian I knew besides Vivien Leigh, was Vivian Vance, the actor who played Ethel on I Love Lucy. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Lucy’s BFF, but as a teenager, she wasn’t exactly the type of person I was looking up to. It doesn’t matter though, because I learned to love my name after finding out it means vivacious or full of life. Was that the name I wanted to live up to? Yes!

My Chinese name is Ming-Ing. Once my dad told me it meant “music that moves people” or at least that’s what I thought he said. Even though my dad is fluent in Mandarin and Taiwanese, his Mandarin is always called into question by my stepmom because he’s what she would call the Chinese equivalent of a “hillbilly”. Therefore his Mandarin couldn’t be correct or proper. (Sidenote: my dad has college degrees from both Taiwan and the United States and my stepmom often asks him for translations of English words to Mandarin and vice versa. Just sayin’. ) I’ve never asked for clarification or confirmation because I love that first definition–music that moves people. I don’t want to find out that my name means anything different.

Do you know your name story?

*This is a reference to my biological mom, but I almost always refer to my stepmom as just mom also.

  1. Music that moves people. I love it! What a wonderful meaning!

  2. arjeha says:

    It is interesting to learn the meaning and history of our names. “Full of life” “Music that moves people.” both great meanings. My name, Robert, according to sources means “Bright fame and fortune.” I am still waiting for both.

  3. I’m fascinated that so many folks have name stories to tell, origins to relate. Your stories make me curious about name traditions and how these shift and change across cultures and over time. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Maureen Young Ingram says:

    What a flashback memory you just gave me, searching for my name on those Disney and other travel center turnstiles! I hadn’t thought about that in years.

  5. This is terrific! I only wish my name came with an invitation to be moved. I couldn’t get the link to play, undoubtedly a failing of my system. I would’ve loved to listen. Lately I have been spending a lot of time using YouTube to investigate pronunciations, so I’m not a complete ingrate. (As you say, “I know better now.”) Names matter—the first gift from our parents and defining.

  6. Lainie Levin says:

    I love name stories. My name? It’s Helaine. It goes along with the Jewish custom of naming children after relatives who have died. I was named after my mother’s stepfather Harry. My Hebrew name is Chaya Sarah. Usually, kids have Hebrew names that “match” their English ones. (It’s also what I’m called when I’m in trouble.) Strange story, though: I’ve always been known as “Lainie,” even from when I was a little baby. My Hebrew birth certificate actually lists me as “Leah Sarah.” Guess someone was eager to jump on the nickname. I’m still going by Chaya, though.

  7. amyilene says:

    Names are so important! In our family (we are Jewish), kids are named for deceased loved ones and they actually have 4 different names….allows for a lot of “honoring”! They have an English first and middle, and a Hebrew first and middle. My own Hebrew name was actually Avraham, which is a male name, because no one thought that I would need it as a Jewish female (they were wrong and it was changed when I was around 12 to Aviella!).

  8. I wouldn’t want to know any different either — that is simply perfect. I am named after St. Clare. I did talk with my mom about it once but I have never really spent time thinking about it. I have heard so much about names recently –I think I need to reflect some more about it. Thank you for sharing.

  9. I actually don’t know my name story but my girls know theirs. 2 named after grandmothers and the third one has her Chinese name as her middle name. The next time I talk to my father I am going to ask him why I have the name I do. It’s weird I don’t know. LOL
    I love your name.

  10. britt says:

    I apparently have so much to say about my name and names in general. Another slicer wrote about her name, and I commented a novel. You’ve given me inspiration to strongly consider writing my own post, too! I have always hated my name (BRITTANY). My spanish speaking grandparents have the hardest time saying it. I then married a monolingual American whose last name didn’t call into question where I am from until you look at me or know I speak Spanish. It’s very frustrating, and I am somewhat beginning the journey of trying (??) to like my name ha!

  11. >I love that first definition–music that moves people. I don’t want to find out that my name means anything different.<

    This is cool on so many levels! First, I'm not even sure where my name came from (I'll need to ask), but more importantly, what my name means (a Google search would be a good start).

    Thank you for sharing this slice that has made of us asking questions! 🙂

  12. Beautiful names with lovely meanings, you don’t want to change any of them. I’ve no idea of my own name story.

  13. aggiekesler says:

    I enjoyed reading about your names. It’s always intriguing to find out where names come from. Who calls you Ming-Ing? Do you prefer your English or Chinese name? Do you have children, and if so, do they have 2 names?

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