In the Bay Area hip-hop dance scene, there is a woman named Micaya. Some people call her (a bit tongue-and-cheekily) the “Queen O’ Hip-Hop” because of her dedicated work to bringing hip-hop to the bay. She hosts the annual SF Hip-Hop Dance Fest and also directs a group of dancers known as SoulForce.
We were discussing upcoming show dates at practice the other night, so this woman’s name came up. Her name is unique, so, understandably, one of the girls on the team asked that the name be spelled out so that she could take accurate notes. Someone said, “That’s almost like Mayka’s name,” and as we laughed in agreement, the girl who needed Micaya’s spelling seemed to be overwhelmed with…names.
She looked straight at me, pointed at my chest, and said, “And yours is just ‘Mayka,’ right?” It’s not everyday that someone I’ve known for months asks me to verify the pronunciation of my name, but hey, maybe she’s in a special place, so I just nodded and affirmed “Yes…”
“Man, what’s up with all these weird names! Why can’t everyone just stick to Mary, or Susan…”
OMG, did she really just say that? I couldn’t help but chime in with “You know, maybe our parents just don’t like the sound of all your Christian names.”
She didn’t seem to catch my intentional stereotyping of her Latina background (something I often do in situations that rub me the wrong way, but hey, some people never get it otherwise) and further continued running ignorance out of her mouth with “I can’t handle all these names!” Did I also mention that she is a teacher?
Anyway, I finished off the conversation with “If you can’t handle unique names, then you shouldn’t be in the Bay.” Bratty, but I meant it.
When people come across non-Christian names, they stop trying at the second syllable (sometimes second consonant). Remember Christine Baranski as the uber-White camp counselor from Hell in Addams Family Values? “Jam, Jum, Jay-mull?” Precisely what I’m talking about. Although it’s perfectly respectable to simply ask a person to sound out or spell out his or her name, people would rather indirectly say “Your name is not worth my knowing. I’m done.”
I have always paid close attention to how people pronounce their names, how they want to be known, how their spelling varies from everyone else’s. Way back in high school, my friend asked, “Dude, why do you care so much about people’s names?” It’s a good question. Maybe I’m overly sensitive. Maybe it’s the reporter inside me, starved for accuracy. Maybe I’m respectful of others. Or, maybe I just grew up with a non-Christian name in the U.S
My name is not Christian. My name is not “ethnic.” My name cannot be found on any Disneyland souvenirs. And my name is not phonetic. My mom made up my name, and she had another choice before “Mayka” was finalized. “Phoenix” didn’t fly well (HAH!) with my dad’s side of the family, and ironically, Phoenix was the more “cultural” choice. I’m a fraternal twin (meaning we’re not identical [And yes, people ask that.]), and in Chinese culture, boy-girl twins are known as dragon-phoenix twins. The boy is the dragon; the girl is the phoenix. (To my knowledge, my parents had no intention of naming my brother Dragon.)
So instead, my mother named me Mayka. Mayka is actually a combination of “May,” my mother’s name, and “Karl,” my mother’s late brother’s name:
May + Karl – rl = Mayka
I’ve asked her why it’s not pronounced “May-kah” and told her “You spelled my name wrong.” But her explanation for “Mi-cah” is “It’s the Spanish spelling.” Because the Maya peoples totally came from Spain.
I looked up both of these names on the most trusted source of information in the world, the Internet, and learned that “May” means “pearl,” and “Karl” means “manly.” Due to the awkwardness of the noun-adjective word order, I switched ’em around and came up with my name’s meaning: “manly pearl.”
So there you, I, we all, have it. My mom made up my name. But there’s another piece of Chinese naming folklore that I find really interesting: Some superstitions claim that children named with new names are less detectable by death. If your name already exists, you are already on Death’s list. Demons will find you more quickly. This is why the baby in To Live is named “Don’t Gamble.” (Also because his dad was a failure at games of chance.)
So, my name is Mayka. It’s not Asian and it’s pronounced identically to the popular Jewish boy’s name and sheet-like form of pyrite. I’ve grown to like it a lot, and there we go. I am such the manly pearl.