denominator

I’ve been musing about my name as it relates to the vagaries of sound, meaning, and probability.

Here are some explanations of each picture / caption.

“What people hear in loud parties”: The image is ‘blue glue’, and while no one hears both, they often hear one or the other. I guess Lou is a man’s name / I might be overenunciating the ‘l’ — but it is hard to enunciate a liquid!. Honorable mention for this image position is Blues Clues — people also hear ‘Clu’ a lot.

“What Chinese people guess”: It’s not so bad to be named ‘beautiful jade,’ so I assume a lot of girls with Lu4 get this character, making it a safe guess.

A quick note on Chinese words in English: You go from character to pinyin (“spelling,” roughly) (with tones) to pinyin (no tones) to American pronunciation. Each step is _non-injective_: several characters that go to the same pinyin (with tones), four pinyin (with tones) per pinyin (no tones), so on and so forth. Using a concrete example, ‘beautiful jade,’ 璐, goes to Lu4, goes to Lu, goes to “lu” (the pronunciation) — but as do many other pinyin. You lose a ton of information, but people deal by making good guesses — my name just isn’t one of the common guesses.

“What confused Americans think”: Lucy Liu, the actress / visual artist. This one illustrates two confusions: that Lu must actually be my surname, and that Lu must be short for _something_. It also highlights the paucity of Asian women in media, though Liu’s stardom is to be celebrated.

I don’t mean ‘confused’ as ignorant — Americans with far better Chinese than mine have been intrigued by this last-name first-name, especially as “Liu”, an extremely common as a last name, is pronounced in English in the same way as Lu. Lv (like ‘lune’ in French) and Lu are also more common as surnames, and are pronounced the same way in English — this is that relentless loss of information I was talking about earlier. Probability says you’re making a good guess, but for me, it is incorrect.

As for Lu <= Lucy — If my name were Lucy, wouldn’t I introduce myself as Lucy? I’d actually get a sibilant to enunciate.

“What Americans with kids think”: Cindy Lou Who. I had an aftercare (school ends at 2:30, adult jobs end at 5…) teacher, Sue Sette, who called me this. I remember her and those times fondly.

“What numerics people think”: Lower-Upper (LU) factorization — ok, so ninth graders learn this too, more or less, just without the name. Linear Algebra was an important course for me because it taught me new ways to think about information.

“Another acceptable girl-name guess”: Dew. Like Rocio.

“What I am in Connecticut”: My name is homophonic with ‘deer’ in Chinese. There are a lot of deer in CT, and Ellen also came up with this in high school in CT.

“What I am in Portland / England”: The Portland Loo is a great convenience — free public toilets that are not useful for sleeping in / drug deals and are cleaned by a human: it’s like the opposite of “why we can’t have nice things” — “a reasonable thing that Portland (so sadly, not Seattle-we) manages to have”.

“What my name actually means”: Road.

I love my name. It’s not gendered in ANY conceivable way; it is an aspirational name, but an aspiration made concrete: it’s not some nebulous ‘hope’, but a path, paved and drained: I’d toyed with Lucy but it didn’t fit, and now I’m glad I stayed the course.

Advertisements