The Meaning of a Name

Every name tells a story: Tell us about your name– any name: first, middle, last, nickname– and its origin. A paragraph to a page long.

If my identity were built upon the different components of my name, my middle name, YingYing, would be the foundation. Both of my parents grew up in China’s capital city and they wanted a part of my name to reflect my heritage. In Mandarin Chinese, “Ying” means “to win.” Typically, Chinese given names are two syllables long; my parents purposefully chose to repeat the syllable in order to emphasize that they hope for me to lead a prosperous, satisfying life. Indeed, I have a fiercely competitive edge when necessary, which can be explained nicely by this translation of my middle name. While my name does hold a specific meaning, generally speaking, it serves as a reminder that my culture is (literally) a part of my identity.

Upon this YingYing foundation sits the framework of who I am today, which is quite accurately represented by my first name, Caroline. My father chose this name, inspired by the accomplished Caroline Kennedy, whom he saw as a worthy role model. He revered her for both her strength, which she displayed after losing her father at such a young age, and her success. In fact, my father was so set on the name Caroline he claims it would have been my name even if I had been a boy! Whereas my middle name reflects my ethnicity, I believe that my first name represents the culture in which I have grown up. I immigrated to the United States with my parents when I was two years old. For the past sixteen years of my life, I have become so familiar with American traditions that I see them as an integral part of my life. If I did not have my first name to serve as a reflection of who I am and the culture with which I am most familiar, I would feel as though my identity was not being accurately represented.

I am a Chinese-American, neither selectively one nor the other – my family and I celebrate American holidays along with Chinese New Year to represent the two cultures that have defined us. My name serves as a constant reminder of my cultural duality. Because of my middle name I will never forget my heritage or the sacrifice my parents made for me by immigrating. On the other hand, my first name acts as a marker of the culture I have lived in almost all my life, and some of the people whose actions I aspire to emulate. Whereas my middle name is the foundation and my first name the framework, neither can individually capture who I am. I believe that it is the assembled structure of the two that creates my strong and versatile identity. Whereas each name is meaningful in its own way, the sum of their meanings is what I value the most.

Leave a Comment