My Name

In Traditional Chinese characters, my name is ‘廖顯禕’. In Tâi-gí, it is pronounced: liāu hián-i. In Mandarin, it is pronounced: liào xiăn-yī.

In print, I present my name in the order of given name first and family name second (‘Shen-yi Liao’). In real life, most people call me ‘Sam’. As best as I can recall, that English name was chosen for its loose phonetic similarity to my name, as pronounced in Mandarin, when I first began learning English as a child. It stuck.

The romanization of my given name, ‘Shen-yi’, contains a hyphen, and the letter immediately following the hyphen is not capitalized. My initial is just ‘S’. This particular romanization is neither Wade-Giles nor pinyin because it was chaos back then.

The romanization of my family name, ‘Liao’ (廖), is less noteworthy on its own. However, when I die, my family name changes to ‘Chang’ (張).

Wait. Whaaaat? Well, here is the brief history of my lineage. During the Mongol Yuan Empire era, the Liao family in Fujian only had a woman heir left. To pass on their family name, the Liao family decided to marry in a husband for their daughter. This man had the family name ‘Chang’. They had only one son, who promised that he and all his descendants would have the family name ‘Liao’ when they’re alive, and the family name ‘Chang’ when they’re dead. During the Manchu Qing Empire era, his descendants migrated from Fujian to Taiwan, mostly Taichung and Changhua. In Taiwan, many of these ethnic Hakka people assimilated to speak only Tâi-gí, or Taiwanese Hokkien. Even though they have forgotten their language, they have not forgotten their ancestor’s promise. The convention that they have the family name ‘Liao’ when they’re alive and ‘Chang’ when they’re dead is still upheld by their descendants, one of which turned out to be me.

I kind of want the scientific community to follow the convention and cite me differently after I die. I suspect that this will not happen. (In the mean time, the scientific community should be more attentive to diverse naming conventions around the world.)