Before the pandemic, I had always used my real name here. But, Australia changed after Trump called the virus the China virus or the Kung-Flu virus. Aussies have turned less multi-cultural, more xenophobic. I man the phones at work and pretend to be AI in running the live-chat responses. Trump is the master of the slow-drip treatment and eventually the leaking tap will cause the soil to turn muddy. Throw the mud around and some will eventually stick. Say the same lies over and over again, and eventually people will believe you. For the same reason, many of my friends think one of us has a rather long dong. But, name me and they will shame me. Back to manning the phones. Over the recent months, I detected a rising level of bias against China and all things Made-in-China. Most of the products I sell are from China. Even for the few products made locally here, the components or raw materials are processed in China. I did not want my business to suffer by what I call a triple-whammy effect. A bloke with a Chinese name and a Chinese accent selling China-made products. Who is going to buy from such a bloke, given the almost daily news about the growing friction between China and Australia? So, I turned down the accent of my mother tongue and put on a more international twang. “Are you a Kiwi?” “Are you from Scotland?” “Sorry to ask but are you South African?” “Can I ask if you’re an Islander?” As a filial son, I never dreamt that one day I would abandon the name given to me by my father. Sorry Pa but at work, I now go by a new name. A name I once associated with my childhood hero, Roger Moore. So, for the record, in my life, the first person named by me is I. Having lived here for forty years, I am suddenly calling myself by a Western name. It still feels weird and I must say I am not accustomed to be known by this Western name. In fact, I find it quite strange to see that name as the sender of my emails. And when I am called by my original name by friends and relatives, I somehow stand taller and feel stronger. After all, that is the meaning of my name in Chinese – forever strong.
No, I never got to give my sons their names. That privilege went to my father. Besides, I wasn’t qualified to perform that task. Firstly, one needs to know how to write the Chinese characters. Secondly, you will need to know how to write it in traditional characters. The simplified version will give the wrong results. I think it is to do with mathematics and maybe even astrology, yes, naming someone is all very scientific. For me, I find it strange that in Mainland China, the simplified version is now used, but outside China in say, Taiwan and Hong Kong, they stick to the old complex characters. My father would carefully count the number of strokes of the names he liked. Firstly, the names had to be meaningful, e.g. for my eldest son, his name means abundance of vigorous energy or magnificence – his first name means copious and his second name, energy from a waterfall. After Pa was happy with the name’s meaning, he then had to satisfy that the number of combined strokes of the chosen names when referenced not against the time and date of the birthday but the number 384 which gave the auspicious result he sought for from the Almanac of Names. Second son is named abundance of auspicious and good spiritual life. Baby Son’s name means abundance of imperial significance. All my sons are named by their paternal grandpa. Pa had the sole naming rights. Their surname was his and I doubt very much that he even paused to consider deferring that right to me or to their maternal grandparents. To be fair, he was the only one equipped with the Almanac. Naming a baby is a privilege, not an entitlement. It is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly as the baby’s future is totally dependent on the name given and the number of strokes of the Chinese characters will determine the characteristics and wellbeing of the child. Historically, sons were favoured over daughters. The girls when married off will merely be discarded water from a wash basin, they cannot return or be retrieved.
Jià chu qu de nǚ ér pō chu qu de shuĭ – shōu bù huí lái
嫁出去的女儿，泼出去的水 – 收不回来
In those days, should a young boy do poorly or was sickly, it was not uncommon for the adults to rename him a cow, pig or dog. The belief was evil spirits roamed about the village to ensnare boys with good names who therefore will have good health and a prosperous future. These evil spirits will obtain their sustenance by residing in the bodies of the boys they possessed. These boys can recover from their sickness only if their names are changed to depict inferiority. No evil spirits want to live inside a pig or a cow, right? If Ah Too or Ah Goo did not recover from his illness, the adults will change his name again, to that of a girl’s. It was believed that a girl was worth less than a pig, so for sure the evil spirit will abandon the boy renamed Ah Moi or Ah Mei. Names and meanings…hmmm, if I have got the historical aspects wrong, please don’t blame me.
It would be some ten years after my sons were born that we had search engines for us to surf the Internet. Netscape Navigator was born in 1994, but was soon destroyed by Windows 95 which came packed with Internet Explorer. I put a lot of my savings into LookSmart, a budding search engine in 1996 but was made to look dumb when the share price tanked and never resurfaced. It was well before Mozilla, Firefox, Safari, and definitely no Google Chrome then. It was my one-in-a-million-chance to tell how I made my millions from the Internet boom but look, I was not smart enough, OK? You can name me whatever but please don’t blame me. Without the Internet, I didn’t have a ready tool to anglicise my sons’ names. I didn’t possess a pinyin dictionary to work out the appropriate names from Pa’s choices. Back in the 80s, hyphenated names were exotic, why not go along with that trend? So, even today my sons sometimes still frown at their anglicised names, they are quite difficult for Westerners to announce over the PA system! It’s ok to blame me, I suppose.
A couple of weeks ago, a good friend asked for suggestions of a suitable name for his grand-niece. I knew he wasn’t serious about it, and no one offered any. He was just a proud grand-uncle sharing the joyful news of a newborn. Wilson belongs to a big family and like any hierarchical unit, I gathered there would be quite a few seniors ranked highly and deserving of the privilege to name the beautiful child. His grand-niece indeed is a creation of exquisite beauty. A natural beauty, I would say. After all, in the midst of the universe we live in, it would be hard to disagree that nature herself is the most beautiful. It is early spring here in Adelaide and I have to say, this is the season where nature is supremely beautiful and at its faultless best. In my native Penang Hokkien dialect, how would we describe a place as beautiful and serene as this? Two words will aptly apply. Jin Sui! Really beautiful.
Jin Sui! I said to Wilson. “The newborn, the beautiful girl in the photo. Jin Sui.” Wilson thought that was my choice for his contest for us to come up with a name for the girl. One can easily come up with a beautiful name for a beautiful girl. Maybe even Sophia from Sophia Loren, or Artemis the Greek Goddess famous for her boobs and the natural environment. Another name we can’t dismiss is Aphrodite the daughter of Zeus, the Goddess of love from whom the word aphrodisiac comes from or even Hera, the wife of Zeus and by extension, the queen of all goddesses. All heavenly. All beautiful. But Wilson’s niece loves the name and has named her daughter Jin Sui! Suddenly, I was the one privileged with giving the beautiful newborn her name. Jin Sui, may you grow up to the most beautiful person you can be, a beautiful woman with a beautiful mind and the loveliest heart.