Little did I know that I’d be involved in selecting a second Chinese name in the same year. My younger sister, MY, tasked my father with giving her daughter a Chinese name. After my parents got wind of the process of naming mine (from me), they guffawed and chortled and mocked the process and the people who adhere to numerology. I am mildly insulted but I take their comments in stride – it’s not like I live and die by numerology and superstitions. This time, however, there were no restrictions. My father claimed wanting to know what the English name is and my mum believed he would try to find characters that sound like it and didn’t like the idea. Further, she had some names bouncing around from when she tried to help me but her suggestions violated the rules!
Below are the four characters we were bouncing around and their meanings.
恩 : kindness; mercy; charity; favor; grace
嘉 : distinguished; praise
愉 : pleased; happy
琦 : outstanding; distinguished; admirable
While I was in Halifax for a visit, we were trying out 恩愉, because they were the characters my mum came up with for Baby. It took me a few tries only to get it right and not backwards. It seems like a lot of vowels, a bit like Baby’s Chinese name. It still wasn’t as bad as the pause I would take every time before saying the word for “cashew”* and I happened to say it a lot in light of Mummy and I discussing cashews, their price and milk we made. I didn’t think that 愉愉/Yuyu was a nice-sounding nickname and asked my mum who said that either you don’t use a nickname and call her 恩 愉 or she agreed you can call her the more pleasant sounding 恩恩/Yunyun. 恩/Yun is easy to pronounce because it’s the same as Yun that we know from “because” (因為). 愉/Yu I had to be a little more careful not to slip in tone and say 魚/”fish” or 瘀/”bruise”. If I had to, I just had to remember it sounds like 如/”if” Yu. Mummy liked that 愉 has a meaning of happiness similar to part of MY’s Chinese name (怡, which means “cheerful”) – symmetry without using the same character.
Those initial discussions with Mummy occurred before baby’s birth and when she did arrive at the end of last month, we finally learned the name, that MY and BIL decided to give her a Japanese name. I hadn’t expected that, thinking the Japanese name would just be a “middle name” like the Chinese one. And the middle name they chose is our mother’s name, which MY told me they might and I was pleased to see it happen. Baby also has my mum’s name as a middle name so there’s a link between the girl cousins who are less than five months apart!
When I got back to Vancouver, Mummy forwarded more options and the combinations.
Mummy hadn’t mentioned 嘉 before. I can take the Anglophone view that Mummy doesn’t understand and think that 恩琦/Yun Kay sounds a smidge hokey either from a Chinese or English perspective or a bit of both. I also reasoned against using 愉 because if I have to pause and wonder if I’m saying it properly, the chances of non-Chinese speakers (BIL for starters) of butchering it are high.
I began to consider 嘉 and it’s a familiar name/sound to me with a church friend named Ka Yee, a family who named the son and daughters Ga-something, and NPY is Ga Ming (“家 as in family!” he knows to specify, but little else). Further, and importantly, 嘉/Ga is not as feminine as 恩/Yun and so if MY has a boy next, he can be 嘉-something and her kids can have the shared character she and I have with our 堂兄弟 (we only have male cousins on our father’s side). That Kiddo and Baby do not share a character, I was initially remiss but am now reconciled that BIL’s – NPY’s brother – kid(s) will share characters with my kids.
As such, 嘉愉/Ga Yu didn’t sound as nice (pretty) as Ka Yee and and I was off 愉 anyhow. 琦 is familiar to me because one of my male cousins has that character (or a homophone) and all I can think of is his nickname 琦仔 and so it seems so masculine and following gender-neutral 嘉. Mummy said 琦 is not inherently masculine and I asked her what the female counterpart to 琦仔 is – 琦女 … sounds so crass! No, the nickname would be 琦琦/Kaykay which happens to be what my grandmother calls an in-law (female) cousin of ours.
So we’re back with 恩, this time preceded by the 嘉 I decided upon and 嘉恩 is the right combination: a gender-neutral chracter followed by something feminine. Once I told MY, she pointed out something we didn’t notice, that it sounds a bit similar to the Chinese pronunciation of her English name, Ka Mun (something like 卡文). Yes, it is and symmetry is great!
A final note on the first name which is Kimiko. She is named after BIL’s grandmother so it’s not pulled out of a hat to be fanciful and as it happens, mother and baby have names starting with “K”. Since I knew Jpop singers have Chinese (Kanji) versions of their names (eg Noriko Sakai’s 酒井法子 , Name Amuro’s 安室奈美恵, and Utada Hikaru’s 宇多田 光), I ventured to look up Kimiko in Kanji.
Kimiko’s Kanji characters are 貴美子. Obviously in Japanese pronunciation, it corresponds to Ki-Mi-Ko and the Japanese meaning of the characters – as it can deviate from original Chinese – are “valuable”, “beautiful” and “child”. In fact, it didn’t deviate so much from Chinese. The Chinese pronunciation of the Kanji characters is another story and are gwai3-mei5-zi2(Cantonese) and gui4-mei3-zi3 (Pinyin).
So it turns out that our suspicion of my dad’s intention to translate an English name to Chinese – like my cousin Karen’s Chinese name is Ga Mun (something like 嘉文)- was moot because there is not an English name and Kimiko already has its Kanji characters!
All that for a name but it’s what I find fun and interesting!
* As in, I would pause ahead of saying “cashew” every time – a very long pause while the word for “almond” (杏仁) kept coming to mind first and a second pause to reject that one and then come up with 腰果. Okay, next time I will try to fast track it by remembering that part of the word is “fruit” (果) and hope that jostles my memory faster!