• Devon J. Shih

Names, names, names.

Our names are rich with story and history, and it only takes a little digging over the dining table to discover them.



In attempts to combat the surplus of time that came with our global pandemic, I've been reading books and watching many critically acclaimed movies. Perhaps in the glass half full, I have been able to experience much of what I've always kept in the back burner.


What I didn't realize was that wonderful and fascinating stories lie right beneath our own names! Over lunch today, I decidedly asked my father about his name.


Allow me to indulge in sharing some of these excellent stories with you all.

"Right, well, you first. Pick any from the list: Albert, Alex, Andrew..."

Although he was born in Taiwan, my father grew up in the U.S. and now goes by Albert. The name traces back to his third year of grade school. Sometimes he likes to joke that he named himself after Einstein, but the real story lives here.


For my young father, it was his first English lesson. The teacher had a list of names, and the children were tasked with adopting one for themselves. By chance, my father was first in line.


"Right, well, you first," the teacher said in Mandarin. "Pick any from the list: Albert, Alex, Andrew..."


My father blinked, dumbfounded. As this was his first exposure to English, he could barely keep up, let alone choose one he liked. "Huh? Could you, er, repeat them?"


So the teacher did. "Well?"


"Um...I'll go with the first one. Aluber?"


After a bit of deciphering, the teacher nodded. "Albert it is!"


And so it went. Though, if he could go back in time, my father mentioned that he'd have probably chosen something else. Something like Draymond. Yes; he's quite the basketball fan.


A theme I've noticed with naming, at least in my family, is that the purpose with which parents have in mind deeply affects the name of their children.

For instance, my little brother's name is Taylor. However, he was originally supposed to be Tyler. The change came after my grandmother insisted that his name be 6 letters. I have never been much of a follower of superstitious ideas, but I find that previous generations often find truth in it.

Values of the namer results in the name. My mother initially chose Tyler because she grew up never running into a Tyler she disliked. My grandparents valued the opinion of fortune tellers, while my mother valued her past experiences, and thus my brother was named Taylor.


On the other hand, my cousin born two years before me values names that aren't gender-specific. (Such as mine and my brother's--Devon and Taylor.)


You see, your name isn't really about you. It's about your parents' values, experiences, beliefs. Perhaps you're a lucky few that get to choose your own, yet more often than not, we're stuck with our names. When your time comes and should you decide to, you'll have the chance to give a child a name you value.


Next time you're sitting around at the dinner table, I encourage you to prompt the discussion--open Pandora's box--and learn a few stories of your own.

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