A Great Name, Finally

Zhewei is my birth name. 

My parents love it. Just like every single Chinese parent, they enjoy telling people the story of naming me, especially how they found 'wei' --that second character, in the dictionary. Yeah, it is absolutely necessary to bring up all the labor of finding that 'wei'—there are probably 100 wei that sound identical, look like cousins and all marked with that rollercoaster intonation that demands a dip and a rise in one breath. Yet, 99% of them have to mean the same damn thing.


Ah, greatness, greatness, greatness. It sure had its day in names. A favorite of Mao’s communist campaign, greatness in its various forms was a regular among names of my parents’ generation. It was a safe name that wouldn't raise eyebrows even during the prime of Cultural Revolution. However, in 1994, almost two decades after Mao bit the dust, Chinese were no longer as interested in saluting communism. Instead, China in 1994 was obsessed with the West, big time. They would hop on their bikes to go on expensive dates at the new KFC downtown, namely spending half of their monthly pay on that deluxe meal of fried chicken, fries and soda. My dad, one of the cheapest people I know, eventually had to join these hippies when dating mom, not because he was tempted to try KFC, but because every girl in my mom's friend group had been to the land where chicken tastes ‘finger-licking good’. The pressure to keep up with the Colonel man, it's surreal.

Consequentially, in the years of KFC craze, ‘greatness’ once a hit, was no longer as popular among my generation of middle-class Chinese kids. Kids that still carry that ‘wei’ in their names, seem like their parents are irresponsible, unprogressive, or simply, have no clue what to expect out of their child. My friends have it easier. They have all the cool names-- purity, wisdom, stamina... You get the picture. As if those names aren't cool enough, there are those parents that have to go the extra mile---- Their kids have Chinese names that sound like English names. Seriously? Growing up, I know at least one Andy and two Kevins, whose name dwarfed mine even more. 

Yeah Kevin, big deal. It's just your name that's cool. How did your math test go huh?

Although in my parents' defense, my name had what it took to be a great name. It turns out my ‘wei’ is an outlaw to its unnecessarily redundant 'greatness' family and actually means ‘light’, last seen in a royal poem some 2000 years ago. Thus, Zhewei altogether means 'philosophy and light'. I know, right? Super fancy. Super pretentious. Super hippie. However, despite my parents’ best intentions, my name still sounds lame; it still sounds just like the other 100 ‘wei’s; it still sounds like good ole greatness from the 60s; my name, at the end of the day, still reeks of Mao.

And it gets worse. When my parents happily went to register me as a new member of the family, they didn't foresee the trouble of their pretentiousness. The staff went through the computer system over and over again, looking for my unique and awesome ‘wei’. They even paused and double-checked with my parents, and that precious pocket dictionary they brought along. Half an hour later, my parents were told that the very character they picked for me was actually missing from the system. Yet the staff somehow managed to salvage my parents’ effort (and screw my life over)—they were able to construct a character from scratch in their computer, for me, exclusively. They also promised to my parents that such glitches, once reported, would usually be fixed very quickly. 

And…the government never fixed it.

For the following years that I used it, my name was an absolute misfortune for everybody in my life, but especially for the person carrying it, me. I had to handwrite my name on all my files; I had to pronounce it word by word every time I met someone new. At school, it happened so often that whenever I heard the teachers struggle longer than a breath after pronouncing my last name, my classmates would giggle and look my way collectively, pointing the source of embarrassment for the teachers. The name didn't just sound lame. It was lame, 360.

Having gone through it too often, I decided that I had to turn it around for myself. My chance came when curious new teachers ask me to explain the unprecedented character in my name. Gosh I loved those people. My classmates were already getting ready for their laughs of the day, but I didn't let them have it --- Besides telling them my names' origin in the royal poems, I went the extra mile and made up stories, just so my name would sound so awesome it could put all those western individualistic artsy names to shame. 

It worked. I told them a different version every time, and a wilder one too. Strangely, none of my classmates ever called me out. Instead, they got carried away; their eyes greeted mine with intoxication, admiration and of course, that burning jealousy I lived for. It even became a serious pass time of mine. After borrowing elements from Chinese fairytales, my name story at its final edition featured a single-eyed dragon, phoenixes and a monk from Tibet in my mom's dream. Eventually, I rose to mini-stardom -- I was the kid with the coolest name ever, hands down. Just listen to that guy telling his name story ! 

And there are other benefits too. During breaks in grade school, girls would ask me to write my super cool name out on their precious collections of Hello Kitty napkins, which they would carefully fold into halves and put away in their Hello Kitty other things. I tried to get them to kiss me on the cheeks too, but oh well, let's just say a cool name can only get you this far.

In a way my parents least expected, my name became a great one indeed. 

Suck it, Kevin. Who's cool now?