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Jasmine Tang


The Story of Your Name

On the Chinese lunar calendar, you were born on new year’s day, the year of the wood goat. This means that on the lunar calendar, your birthday will fall on the first day of the year, every year.

Your names inherit a line of incorrect translations and language differences within a chapter of Asian American history that involves moments of loss and recovery:

Your Chinese name is 謝丹堯.

Goong Goong and Paw Paw gave you this beautiful name. Goong Goong, a student of calligraphy, painted it out when you were born. The first character is your true family name: in Toisanese (the language of your father’s side), it sounds like "Dare" (“Dare” is also spelled in English as "Tse" and "Xie"). This is the same character for thank you in Chinese, as in xie, xie ni, or doh jeh.

Years ago, your daddy’s own grandfather, Tse Kin Lee, told a U.S. immigration official his full name. The official mistook "Lee" to be the last name. This is one explanation. The other is that grandma Nen told her husband to just change it because “Lee” is “easier” to understand “Tse.” Whatever the case, thereafter the Tses became the Lees.

Your Chinese first name is DanYu. “Dan” [丹] invokes the dantian: said to be the soul of martial arts, the dantian involves the generation of qi, of energy, and the main dantian is located in the lower abdomen.

"Yew" is the third character of your name  [堯]. It’s a reference to the legendary Chinese emperor from around 2400 BC. Taken together, these characters paint a rich story of energy, and of rootedness, with links to Chinese history and ways of knowing.