Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Name versus Career: fate or coincidence?

I remember when I was young, I was fascinated by the fact that some of the famous people had just ‘the perfect’ names for the jobs they were doing. For example, the director of the national agriculture department’s name meant ‘plenty rainfall so that plenty yield’ and the chief of the government-own national bank then had a name meaning ‘keeping a lot of money’. Even though I don’t recall the exact names now, I clearly remember how amazing it seemed to me. Another striking example was that most of government officers have words such as ‘nation’, ‘prosperity’, ‘people’, or ‘China’, while only a few people I knew did. At first, I wondered whether they changed their names when they took up their important jobs. That would have been silly. Then, why there are so many such ‘coincidences’? Was there fate, i.e., they were doomed by their names?

Then I thought about it. No loving parents will randomly pick a non-sense name for their child. Especially in China, where we can use regular Chinese words as names, parents tend to put their best wishes and high expectations on the child into the name of the new-born, which will be bonded to the child through his/her life. Most of the time, the thought-to-be ‘best’ names for us were decided by the eco-social values of our parents. On the other hand, well, ‘no man is an island’. We grew up under the influence from our family, especially their values. Consciously or unconsciously, we appreciate the same things our family appreciated and we disapprove the things our family disapproved (which may not be true during adolescence). Actually, one can imagine that the stronger the meaning of the name, the stronger the ‘push’ from the family might be. As a result, when comes to deciding on the right career path, a vague association naturally emerges between the career we choose and our names.

Therefore, one can relieve by knowing he/she is not bonded by his/her name, instead, by his/her childhood experience as Freud may put it. My Chinese name means ‘sweet’, given by my grandparents, representing their wishes that I would be a happy and health girl. My mother once expressed concerns (as a joke) that such a name will not suit a state woman or a CEO of a big company. Given the importance our family put on ‘being happy and healthy’, my chance of getting into politics or management is very slim. I guess I can settle being a ‘nice and happy’ teacher, and doing what I love—teaching and practicing statistics.

PS: the former Chairman of China, Jiang Zemin's name means "a big river that benefits the people". See?