In Chinese, family names come before given names. In Taiwan, my last name, Wang, is like the last name Smith in the United States and, to me, it’s a blanket that wraps my family together, a reminder of all the things we have in common. When people say my full Chinese name, Wang Rae Hsuan, the Rae comes out sharp and to the point, while Hsuan slips out softly, like caramel I roll around my tongue. Two sounds that are completely different and yet connected, like the two sides of me: the practical, straightforward person who folds her clothes in neat rectangles, plans and stresses over everything in her life, and the girl who wants to let everything go and do something crazy.
My parents didn’t come up with my Chinese name until I was three days old. Up till then, my family called me mei mei, which means “little sister” in Chinese. That was how, two years later, when I moved to America, my mom connected my identity in my family with May, a word that in English means the fifth month of the year, a month that doesn’t really have anything to do with me. It’s like my mom tried to fit two puzzle pieces—two cultures—that don’t really go together. May. When people say it, I think of a block thudding on wood—a dull sound. Yet, over the years, it’s a word that has come to represent me.
Two names that mean one person. Sometimes I dream of going to a new city, getting a new name, shedding May Wang and Wang Rae Hsuan with all their burdens like a snake sheds its skin. I want to taste the freedom of becoming a new person in a place where no one knows me, but I know deep down that I won’t. I’ll always be May Wang and Wang Rae Hsuan. Those two names will always mean me