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Home > general rambling > What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?

January 11th, 2009

I was named after my maternal grandmother, whose name was Emiko. As you scratch your puzzled head and say “But I thought you were Taiwanese?”, I can explain. At the time of my grandmother’s birth, Taiwan was under Japanese rule, which was reflected by education and language… and kids were named accordingly. When my parents were born in the early 1940’s, my Mom was named Michiko and my Dad was named Taka.

Then when Taiwan was handed (back) to China after WWII in 1945, it was another culture shift — and my parents had to get Chinese handles. So my Mom was henceforth called Mei-tze (“may-TSUH”) and my Dad was dubbed Wen-long (“WOON-ong”).

Fast forward to the early 1960’s. My parents attended National Taiwan University, where they took English courses taught by American Catholic priests and nuns, who felt the students should have English names. So they drew them out of a hat. Seriously.

My Dad got Robert, and was cool with that.

My Mom got Dorothy… but wasn’t a fan. So the following day, she visited her professor and explained that she’d prefer a different name. He gave it a little thought, then suggested Loretta — after the movie and tv star Loretta Young.

And so my parents are Bob and Loretta… as well as Wen-long and Mei-tze… plus Taka and Michiko. It’s a wonder they don’t have identity crises.

Years later, when my Dad’s younger brother hit post-secondary, he got to choose his own name — progress! He gave it a lot of thought, and finally came up with… Carton. Older brother Bob said:

“Uh… don’t you mean CARLETON?”

“Nope! I mean Carton.”

And so I have an Uncle Carton. And yes, he definitely walks to his own drum.

In 2004, we did a family trip back to Taiwan. My Dad put together a detailed itinerary that included contact names and numbers. On it was my Uncle’s coordinates, and my Dad had typed “Uncle Carleton Chen”. When I saw the printout, I asked him why he’d put that.

“Because it SHOULD be Carleton!”

I said that since Carton had chosen Carton, we should respect that. My Dad grumbled, but did correct it.

I’ve often wondered if I would’ve turned out differently if my name had been something else. I wonder if Gwyneth’s kid is going to be screwed up because her name is Apple. I consider what I’d choose for myself if I could pick my own name now. I find it fascinating that names go in cycles — a million Zachary and Madison babies now, but no more Pearls or Clarences.

Where did your name come from?

What name would you choose for yourself if you could pick now?

general rambling , , , ,

  1. January 11th, 2009 at 19:03 | #1

    This is awesome! My given name was a compromise and a bit made up since my Mom didn’t like what my Dad wanted to call me:)

  2. January 12th, 2009 at 12:58 | #2

    oh i love your post, m! what a wonderful story you have! names are amazing, aren’t they! it was a daily chat while we were pregnant with our little sweetie about what to name the baby! my hubby and i were consumed with it! we even waited 30 days after he was born to make sure the name fit well before we announced it! in the end, we happily chose to name him after my wonderful father (who had passed away) and our baby was given my last name as his first in honour. i love hearing name-stories! thanks!

  3. January 12th, 2009 at 13:19 | #3

    Uncle Carton..that’s too funny. It was not easy to pick out the names for my kids. I actually changed the middle name of my youngest the morning after she was born. I couldn’t tell people her name until I double checked with my hubby.

  4. January 12th, 2009 at 15:30 | #4

    Great story! Amazing how people feel they have the right to interfere with others on such a basic level as to dictate what kind of name they should have!

    And also, thanks for your comment on my blog. I always enjoy it when people tell me how they found me! Glad you liked my work.

  5. January 12th, 2009 at 18:15 | #5

    I wish I knew! I know my middle name was after a woman my mom knew in college (Mae). I never liked my name as a kid. It seemed like too grown up a name for a kid. I now am happy my name isn’t too common.

  6. January 12th, 2009 at 21:33 | #6

    Love this story! My name rhymes which is so unique that I’ve decided that when I get married one day, that I will not change it! It would be hilarious if I married someone with the last name “Long” and then my name would be Almay Alday Long!! The first two letters of my first name comes from the first two letters of my last name AL in ALday. I was born in MAY, so ALMAY is my name!

  7. January 12th, 2009 at 22:38 | #7

    I’m still in shock that they just picked people’s names out of a hat!! Incredible.

    My maiden name was actually “americanized” when my dad’s family came over from Europe. Makes it easy to track down extended family as it made the name quite unique.

  8. January 13th, 2009 at 00:30 | #8

    very very fun facts

  9. Lindsay
    January 14th, 2009 at 20:32 | #9

    …i’d for sure change the spelling of my name to Lyndzee…

  10. January 15th, 2009 at 11:32 | #10

    That story is fascinating!! I did choose my name in some way, since I almost only use the second one :-)
    Thank you for your lovely message on my blog btw :-)

  11. January 16th, 2009 at 15:23 | #11

    Great post! Since I also have a Chinese background, I know that there can be some very different English names. I actually once had a roommate with the name Apple. She loved it!

    As for myself, my name was my Dad’s idea. The one subject he enjoyed in the highschool, besides Math, was French class. And so, my name translate to “friend” in the feminine form, or as hubby says, it’s Girlfriend. And I really love my name, would not change it for anything! As for my last name, well, you can see that I took my hubbie’s.

  12. March 17th, 2009 at 09:44 | #12

    Oh wow…I love this post. So awesome. Great story. I have no idea where my parents got my name from. It’s different though. Not a lot of Marvin’s these days. :)

  13. March 29th, 2009 at 20:10 | #13

    That’s so interesting! I was almost named “Robin”, but luckily, my mom’s choice won out, and I was named Emiko. I used to hate having a hard to pronounce name as a child, but now I love it. It makes me feel special, and reflects the Japanese part of my heritage. Now, If I could name myself…hmm…..what would it be? I’ve always been fond of “Sophie”. ;)

  14. Uncle Carton
    October 7th, 2009 at 08:19 | #14


    This Uncle Carton speaking on his own behalf. It is amazing that so many people regard the name ‘Carton’ weird. I picked it from a well-known Charles Dickens novel. Many of you must have read it, and yet seem to have forgotten about him. Well, this hero was also quickly forgotten in the story by most except those dear to him. (I like unsung heros.)

    The other thing is that whenever I introduce myself to a native English speaking person, he or she would almost always repeat it with ‘Oh, Carlton/Carleton’ with an emphasis on the ‘l’, which they think that we orientals cannot pronounce. Sometime I just let it go (and risking that they think I cannot hear the difference), and sometime I correct them.

    How did I come out with this name? Well, I did not have an English given name until I needed to apply for a passport and a visa to go to the U. S. The day before, I was sitting in a coffee shop with a couple of my college buddies, and thought very hard about all kinds of possibilities. Then this one hit me.

    Finally, I am very glad of my own choice. There may be hundreds or thousands of Peter Chen’s, James Chen’s, Tony Chen’s, Bob/Robert Chen’s, but there is probably only one Carton Chen.

    Now, you parents, don’t imitate. Seriously.

  15. October 7th, 2009 at 08:39 | #15

    Hi Uncle Carton! I can’t wait to meet you someday. You are a force, I can tell.

    I love when parents who name their children, or in Carton’s case, people who are lucky enough to pick their own name, pay homage to someone they admire; whether fictional, family, or famous but lesser-known. I always liked the names Hayden & Sadie because they were a nod to Canadian music-makers that not everyone would be familiar with. Unfortunately they suddenly for some reason became en vogue in North America despite the fact the namers have no idea who the artist/band is.

    I actually wouldn’t change my name. I like it. I’m running into more Amandas in my adult life but that was bound to happen as my circle ever-widens. As a kid, I was the only one. I’m definitely the only “Mander” I’ve ever met and I’ll have to thank Dad for that nickname.

  16. Shannon Elliot
    October 7th, 2009 at 09:31 | #16

    Amanda – too funny that you should mention those names. Baby #2 is due in a matter of weeks and from day one I have been pleading with Brett to consider the name Hayden. Unfortunately, he’s not a big fan, so it doesn’t look like it will fly. (Perhaps all the better, given the new popularity – I think there’s some tween actress with that name?)

  17. Samantula
    October 7th, 2009 at 10:25 | #17

    Thats so interesting!
    As such a typical, Canadian, english, white family i have no interesting stories at all about my name! :)
    It came because my mother loved it – my dad hated it – but hated Shannon more, which was the first choice.
    And my middle name, Lori, came because they figured my first name was long, i should have a short middle name!

    not nearly as fun! :)

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