I’ve been posting quite a bit less because my once-sedentary lifestyle has been upended - I’m currently on an extended trip through East and Southeast Asia with my boyfriend! So far, I’ve spent two months in Japan (Tokyo, Nagano, Osaka, Matsuyama, Hiroshima, Kyoto), one week in Hong Kong, and one month in mainland China (Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Guilin, Yangshuo) working in hostels, exploring amazing cities, and meeting all kinds of new people - with excellent name stories. We’re exploring more of mainland China, then heading to Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam over the next 3-4 months - check out our travel blog at aireande.com!
Ethan and me in Tokyo
Now, onto names: while traveling, I’ve been explaining my interest and study of names to all kinds of people, leading to some cool conversations about naming conventions in other countries. I’d like to explore name traditions for each country further, but with my current spotty access to wifi, I’ll just start with a list of cool names and stories I’ve come across so far.
Last names (and anything particularly identifying) have been removed!
Christopher called Kit
A good friend of mine told me how he got his nickname, one that’s unusual for our age group. He enrolled late in preschool when he was about three, and the teacher told him and his parents, “We already have two Christopher’s and two Chris’, you’ll need to pick a new nickname.” So they researched alternative options and found Kit! He likes his name, and it suits him well.
Sibset: Yua and Kanoa
These two sweet girls have equally sweet Japanese parents, who were very gracious about answering my questions about the kids’ names. They likes these names particularly because of their meanings, which I remember as “good help” and “kind help” (but Google is being unhelpful on confirming this!)
An American friend living in Japan (who I miss dearly) comes from a big family - and he sent me a detailed explanation of all of their names! (One of the many reasons Frank is the best). Pretty much every child has been given names to honor a close friend or relative:
“Frank Rowley, I'm named after a minister who lived… in Colorado and was as a grandfather to my mother. My father as a gift gave her the choice of my name and that was her choice.
Joseph Charles is next. Joseph is my mother's father's name and Charles is my father's father's name.
Mary Ellen Rose is the third child. (First name Mary Ellen) Her name is my father's mother's name and his grandmother's name.
Fourth is Billie Ann Margret. (Billie Ann is first name, double names for every girl actually) Billie Ann is my mother's mother's name, Margret is my mother's grandmother's name.
Fifth is George William, George is my father's name and William is my father's grandfather's name as far as I know.
Sixth is Helen Elizabeth Mae. Helen is my father's stepmother's name, Elizabeth and Mae I'm not sure about.
Seventh is Maureen Kimberly Alice. Maureen and Alice are my father's closest sisters name, and Kimberly is my mother's youngest sisters name.”
A fabulous Australian woman told me that she was supposed to be named Marissa, but her mother was helped by a kindly Kate whose birthday was near her baby’s due date. She said “If the baby is born on your birthday, I’ll name her after you,” not thinking that it could actually happen. Lo and behold, baby Kate was born on that exact day.
One of my favorite names! I met an Aya at a concert for the band YAY - she pointed out to me and the band members that it was her name flipped. Perhaps that’s why she attended?
Apolline (called “Apo” or “Apple”)
I was introduced to la belle Apolline while working with her a hostel in Ehime prefecture. Another worker told me her nickname was “Apo,” which I misheard as “Apple”. I definitely think that name-nickname set could work in the US! Note: the Japanese word for apple is ringo, and my boyfriend began referring to Apolline as “Ringo-chan,” much to the delight of our Japanese hosts.
A new Turkish friend told me her name meaning via email before I even asked - of COURSE we became friends. It means “origin,” and is used for girls in Turkey. She apparently gets called Ashley a lot, though.
Youhei, Kouhei, and Kyouhei
Three of our hosts in Ehime had VERY similar names, listed above - one of them joked we could call them all “The Hei’s.”
Twins: Sydney (f) and Tucker (m)
Their mom was ahead of the curve - these two are 25 years old, but their names sound incredibly modern. I like that the names fit well together but don’t feel matchy-matchy. Sydney recently had a baby girl named Maeve - a very stylish choice.
While her official name is Yiwan, meaning “beautiful cloud” in Chinese, Yiwan told me that she goes by Yvanne when working with English speakers since it’s easier for them. But once I heard her name’s meaning, I had to call her Yiwan!
While in Osaka, I met a friendly Frenchwoman named Nadia - which intrigued me, since I thought that the name wasn’t popular in France (checking the data, that’s an incorrect assumption!) She told me that she was named after Nadia Comăneci, the first gymnast to score a perfect 10 at the Olympics. So cool!
Disclaimer: we were speaking at a loud open mic night, so there’s a chance I misheard his Chinese name! While talking with a family in Hong Kong, I met a man with two interesting name stories. His Chinese name, which I heard as Momen, means “no news” (can’t confirm online, but he probably knows better than Google). For years he didn’t know why his parents named him this, but as an adult his father told him the name comes from the saying “no news is good news,” echoing the virtues of peace and contentment with the present in Buddhism. His English name Morgan comes from a movie that his parents watched and loved, called “Morgan!” (1966) - but the main character spends the movie descending into madness. Sounds like this man’s parents were a kick!
I met Chun Nam (English name Stephen) in Hong Kong, and he gave us an amazing tour of the Kowloon Walled City - AND answered a bunch of my name questions! When he was born, his name was Tsin (展) Lung (龍), with the meaning of "an unfolding dragon, symbolising something good, like [positive] development in [his] life." However, another word (剪) also sounds like Tsin in Cantonese, meaning "scissors" or "cutting," making his name sound like "cutting a dragon in half." His parents, fearful of the implications of this inauspicious name, took him to a feng shui master to make a new name: Chun (震) Nam (楠). "Chun means shaking, like in an earthquake, and Nam is a very valuable type of good wood... The names means if you place the piece of wood in the river, it would resist the wave and stand still (won't shake)." I love this name history for all of the universal elements of naming it brings in - parental preferences, etymologies/meanings, aural confusion, and looking to outside professionals for help.
Sofi and Rumi
Alright, so these are border collies, but I found it delightful that in the middle of Guangdong’s (China) countryside, there were two dogs with such star names - with Sofia and Sophia being the world’s current favorite for girls, and Beyoncé making waves with a daughter named Rumi.
I met the incomparable Nicolai while in the Chinese countryside, and this Danish man surprised me with (what sounds to me like) a Russian name. He’s one of five children, and their sibset is fantastic - Rasmus, Nicolai, Frederik, Christina, and Josefine.
I met wonderful and Welsh Fabian while at a hostel in Guilin - her name is actually spelled creatively, but because it’s so unusual, I’ll simplify it for privacy’s sake. She’s the only female Fabian she’s ever met! She also comes from a great sibset: Seren (m), Phoenix (f), and Siaman (m) are her brothers and sister.
I met English Katy at the same hostel in Guilin, whose name sounds fairly popular - until she pointed out to me that no one in the UK spells her name correctly (Katie is preferred). The midwife wrote the incorrect spelling on her birth records, and it stuck!
We met while working at an English school in Yangshuo, China. He’s from Egypt, and when I asked him how many Mohamed’s he knows, he said “More than you can ever imagine.” (HA!) He was born on the Prophet Mohamed’s birthday (peace upon him), hence his first name (his middle name is after his father, Ayman). He told me some great stories about his siblings’ names too: it’s customary for the grandmother to name the first child, but since Mohamed (firstborn) was named by his father, his grandmother insisted on naming his next oldest sister - Sarah. His brother Yousef was given one of the more popular names of his birth year, and in Egypt the name Yousef implies strength, handsomeness, and kindness. His youngest sister is Dina, but Mohamed couldn’t remember why that name was chosen :) His mother's name is Ghada, meaning "graceful woman" in Arabic.