Wednesday, April 9, 2008

What's in a name?

Thinking about names, I'm reminded of a post I've been wanting to make since I started this thing. (As a note, the photo below is of me in traditional Hmong clothing, with traditional Hmong photo expression, that is, expressionless.)

As you can see, I named this blog after my Hmong name. It is a tradition among Hmong missionaries to receive a Hmong name. When in the MTC, the teachers will give us each a temporary Hmong name, but when you enter the field, in the first few days of your service, your trainer will take you to a Hmong family where they will take a good look at you, sometimes ask a little about you, and then, in a generally simple and unfrilly process, tells what your name will be. This is a seemingly simple process, but nevertheless significant. The naming of a Hmong elder means something, because that is the name by which he will be known for the rest of his life in the Hmong community. I think part of the reason for is because Hmong people have a hard time pronouncing and remembering our proper English names, and I believe it's a common practice in a lot of Asian language-speaking missions. These "new names" generally have little to nothing to do with your actual name (for example, "Kuab Ci" is not a literal translation of Graham, or even Drew). Mine means "power shine," roughly, and other names mean various things, from "blessing" to "miracle," from "Genesis" to "youngest son," from "freedom" to "hammer"! It just depends on the namer. (Incidentally, when I was named, the members who named me prepared a little meal for us, and I am told by my trainer, as I knew little of the language at the time, that during the blessing on the prayer, the head of the house blessed me and my name, that I would be a "light" to the Hmong people or whatever. It was his first elder to name, and he thought it a very special opportunity.) Generally, you also take on yourself the last name (or clan name) of the family you named you (I'm a Lee, others are Moua, Vang, Yang, etc.). You are essentially adopted into the Hmong family, having been called of God to learn the language and serve the people, and the name sort of seals the deal. New to the language, the new elder hardly knows what's going on, but the trainer will write it down for him and explain what it means. Thus goes the tradition.

Name and Identity are very important and eternal principles. When we are born, our parents think very carefully what to name their children, because not only is that what we will be known as for the rest of our lives and what will appear on official documents such as driver's license, passport and social security card, but also, for us Latter-day Saints, that is the name by which we will be known as on the records of the Church. Also, generally, our names tie us to our family, or the family into which we marry. Our identity, temporal and eternal, is a precious and priceless thing. We are so lucky to know who we are and from Whom we are descended. Throughout the scriptures, the importance of names is emphasized: Jesus Christ Himself was known as Jehovah throughout the Old Testament; Abram's name is changed to Abraham, and Jacob's to Israel, also in the Old Testament; Zacharias and Mary, respectively, being informed by angelic message that their sons will be named John and Jesus; the Nephites naming each king in succession after the original, Nephi, in tribute to his righteous leadership; Heavenly Father called Joseph Smith by name when He introduced His Beloved Son in the First Vision. Make no mistake, our Father in Heaven knows us, and by name. Our names are far more than just something used to get our attention. They define us and remind us of who we are and where we came from.

I know who I am. I didn't always. But I now also know who I can and will become. I'm grateful for the things that have happened along the way to remind me of this. Now, whether going by Andrew, Drew, Droopy-Scoopy, Drewsie, or Kuab Ci, I am who I am. I'm me. We're tied to our name(s), for now and in the eternities, in some degree, and it's important we live up to who we truly are.

Having said that, now is a good time to reveal something I've been thinking about for some months--the Hmong names that I have chosen for my family! As for now, I only have names picked for the immediate family, but others are on the way. This wasn't some random process, you know, I had to pick names that will mean something! So, here they are:

Dad - Tsim Txiaj (Having a good behavior or character, pronounced jeet dzia)
Mom - Txiaj Ntsim (Gift, pronounced dzia njeet)
Amber - Luag Ntxhi (Smile, literally "laugh whisper," pronounced loua ntsee)
Matt - Meej Pem (Exact, clear, correct, pronounced meng bait)
Cami - Tshav Ntuj (Sunshine, also mercy, literally "sunny sky," pronounced cha ndoo)
Melody - Kab Lia (Dimple, pronounced ga leah)
Emily - Txoj Sia (Life, pronounced dzah sheea)
Elise - Nkauj Suab (Beautiful voice, pronounced ngao shoua)

Some of them are somewhat common Hmong names, and some of them I just chose randomly to try and pick unique and appropriate names. This is important to me, just as my family has always been and will always be. Now we're really one clan! You also take my clan name, so we're all Lees!

So, what's in a name? Quite a lot, I guess...


  1. Oooh, this is a fun post. I like my name. Very nice. I was wondering why and how you got that name. Very interesting.

  2. Hi Drew! Welcome home! I'm sad I haven't been able to see you yet, but life is a bit crazy. I spend most of my time in Riverton. We will definitely have to get together sometime soon! I live a block away from Lili, so next time you're going to be there I'll see if I can run up and say Hi!

  3. Oh I love this post. I love the beautiful names you chose for us. I could tell you put a lot of thought into them. It made me have tears.

  4. Kuab Ci:

    This post is awesome, and meaningful to me. Thanks for writing it.

    Your brother,
    Meej Pem