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.