My real name is Felix. I made it a point to ask my parents how they decided on that, and there wasn’t any big surprise. They just watned a name that would be different than most. They didn’t want me to have an ordinary name. At the time, my dad explained to me, they weren’t sure if I as to be a boy or girl. So they had backups. If I was a girl, I would be named Felicia; if I was a boy, I would be named Felix.
I have another real name. A Chinese name that, technically, is the equivalent of my first name. If we were all in China, you would be calling me Wei Tien most likely. Here in America, my first name is Felix. My middle name is my Chinese first name, Wei Tien.
For a long time, I was pretty embarassed by my middle name. But then again, who isn’t? For me though, I didn’t like it. It was too Asian a name, too Chinese. Too non-American. Too non-white. Only recently have I been more comfortable with my middle name. And this year, it’s gotten to where I’m truly proud of it.
My command of Chinese is pretty weak. I know that Tien means "sky". And for many years, I believed the word Wei to mean "very". So, I thought that my name meant "very sky." Pretty cool.
Yesterday, as I was driving home with my mom and dad, I asked them about my Chinese name; I wanted them to explain it to me. Turns out, "Wei" is less descriptive than I thought… it has more symbolic meaning. Back in China, each small village would typically have a poem of some sort, writing that would be part of a temple’s woodwork or carved somewhere on the building. For each child born in a particular generation, a specific word was chosen from that temple poem. So the word "Wei" was originally part of some poem/writing in my grandmother’s village, and every grandchild has that first prefix to their Chinese name. So, as my name is "Wei Tien," my sister’s name is "Wei Sum." Depending on the family, and depending on the generation, a different word is chosen… but that one word is given to every child born into that generation.
Tien, it turns out, means more than sky. It also stands for "heaven", "the heavens", "the firmament". The word Wei means to "maintain," to "preserve" or "hold together." So, roughly translated, my real Chinese name means "Preserver of Heaven" or "He Who Holds the Heavens Together."
This trip home was really great. I had a good time talking with everyone and there wasn’t any stress at all. Well, minimal stress. :) And the conversation I had with my parents about my name really did something to me. Since last night, I’ve been thinking a lot.
In some ways, it felt almost as though I had been given a new name. Going home, I discovered this secret meaning, this secret side of myself that I never knew existed. It makes me feel hopeful because, at times, I am largely a creature of habit and routine. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, something as simple as a name completely reshapes my perspective. For the longest time, I believed my name to be something permanent, something I knew and understood. Now, to find out otherwise… that there’s a whole different meaning than what I believed – that makes me excited. This means that other parts of me, those stubborn, habit-hardened parts of me, may not be as unchangeable as I once believed.