Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What's In A Name?

Although I was born Yayoi Lena Winfrey, my parents called me only by my middle name, Lena, until I was old enough (at 33) to reclaim my birth name. Actually, I was going to art school at the time. While redefining who I was, Yayoi seemed a better fit than Lena.

Now, don't get me wrong. Lena is a nice name. It was my paternal grandmother's nickname although her given name was Eleanor (how anyone got Lena from that--well, it's just a black thang.) But back to art school and finding myself; I just felt Yayoi was more definitive of who I was becoming so I began demanding that everyone call me that--even when they couldn't pronounce it.

The story goes that when my mother chose my name at my birth, the Japanese doctors who delivered me laughed at her. In case you don't know, the Japanese are very specific people. That's why they make such good cars. The kanji used to write Yayoi has meaning that connects it to the spring season, but it's not just any old time during spring. It's early spring. Thus, Yayoi translates into an early spring sky which occurs in March. If you tell a Japanese person that your name is Yayoi, they will automatically assume that you were born in March. But, sigh, my rebel mother (remember, she married an "enemy" of her people) had me in May, and refused to budge when those doctors made fun of her. Giving your May baby a March name in Japan is akin to naming your September-born daughter June. It confuses.

Over the years, discussions with my volatile mother led me to believe that Yayoi meant "spring flower". But one day she changed her mind, explaining to me that the meaning is in the kanji and the condition of the sky was more significant. I mentioned this to her Caucasian husband who then emailed me a link leading to the historical significance of my name.

Yayoi, it seems, was actually a clan of people in Japan believed to have originated in China. Arriving on the Nippon islands about 2,000 years ago, they were the first to cultivate rice there. They were also incredible artists and made the first bronze temple bells. Wow. Can you dig it? I can because I love the sound of temple bells!

Recently, I read that the Ainu, the indigenous folks of Japan, were sort of pitted against the Yayoi, but the Yayoi won. To this day, the Ainu are ostracized in Japan.

Here's a guide to pronouncing my name:
Yah (with a short "a" sound), yoh (with a long "o" sound), and ee (with a long "e" sound).

Your Hip Hapa,

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