(Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Troy High School

The meaning behind a name

Today I learned the meaning behind my full name.

In my previous article about the struggles of growing up Chinese, I mentioned the bitterness I felt towards my family name, something that my mother took great interest in after she read my piece. She called me over, presumably to talk about my writing. However, what we discussed subsequently had nothing to do with that — she wanted to tell me about the history behind my firstname instead.

She asked, “Do you know why I named you Kevin?” Of course, I replied no.

Children usually don’t know the meaning behind their parents’ choice. This is typically discussed at a later stage in both sides’ lives when reflection and reminisce are more prominent.

She began with a simple explanation.

“Kevin sounds similar in English and in Chinese, so when you are young and still learning, relatives and friends will call your Chinese name, but you’ll still somewhat hear your English one and respond accordingly,” she said.

I was greatly amused by this superficial, almost lazy reason behind my name, but little did I know this was simply the calm before the storm.

Kevin is written in Chinese using two characters: kǎi wén. The first half, kǎi, means “triumphant” or” victorious” and the second half, wén, means “culture, writing, language,” and more. Taken together, my mom intended for my name to roughly mean, “to easily and proficiently learn anything and dominate the academic field wherever I go.” A little stereotypical, as Asians are known for their focus on studies, but my mom’s explanation showed the deep roots of my name to her culture, as well as her aspirations for her son.

Another, slightly more humorous reason she chose Kevin is because of her obsession with Kevin Costner, a famous actor popular around the time she moved to America, and one of her first “celebrity crushes” in the promise land and her new home. A great actor and handsome man, apparently she wanted me to be just like him, and grow up to be just as handsome and charismatic. I am not a good actor by any means, but I think that I satisfied her expectations appearance-wise.

A person’s first name usually does not carry more weight than their last, but after my epiphany, I consider both halves of my name equally important to me. With no more animosity towards either part, I now completely love and respect my name, even more so towards the giver.

I am greatly appreciative of my mom putting this much thought into my name, and now I see both myself and my family in a whole new light — I’ve gained insight into who I am, and I’ve come to appreciate my family and its legacy. I’m grateful for this opportunity that not many children are able to experience until later in life. My perspective of everything in life has changed, and I’m eager to experience the world with this new mindset.

Sometimes it’s good to learn your personal history sooner rather later. I now strive to make my mom more proud of her son than ever before.

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