My Name

In Traditional Chinese characters, my name is “廖顯禕”. In Taiwanese Hokkien, it is pronounced: liâu hénn í. In Modern Standard Mandarin, it is pronounced: liào xiăn yī.

In print, I present my name in the predominant Western order of given-name first and surname 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 Modern Standard 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. The romanization is neither Wade-Giles nor pinyin because it was chaos back then.

The romanization of my surname, “Liao”, is less noteworthy on its own. However, when I die, my surname changes to “Chang” (張).

Wait. Whaaaat? Well, here is the brief history of why people in my lineage have a surname that changes after death. A long time ago in the Fujian province, the Liao family had only one heir left, a woman. To pass on their last name, the Liao family decided to marry in a husband for their daughter. The man who married in had the surname “Chang” and was also the last heir of his family. As a compromise meant to ensure that each family’s last name gets passed on, they agreed that the first boy they had would have the surname “Liao” and the other children would have the surname “Chang”. Unfortunately, things did not turn out as they planned; the couple had only one child, a boy. In the end, they decided that when the boy was alive, his last name would be “Liao”, and when he died, his last name would be “Chang”. Moreover, the same convention will forever apply to his 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.