Named After by
(109 Stories)

Prompted By What's in a Name

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My mother was named after, umm, someone—maybe an aunt on her father’s side?  Someone named “Grace”.  That was the first name she shed, and she said didn’t like the name, or the person–there must be a lost story somewhere.  In any case, she was never called by that name.  Her middle name was an invention that riffed off her mother’s name; Esther became “Estalyn”, which also never stuck, and she grew up answering to “Ennie”.  At some point, maybe in college, she chose her own name and started calling herself “Lyn”.  Once she was married, her maiden name was also kicked to oblivion (only to live on in security questions for her children), so she was nominally a new person.

“You don’t look Chinese!”

She noted some advantages never using her legal name, the main one being that anyone calling on the phone asking for “Grace” was immediately marked as someone she never knew in her life.

As far as I know, my mother also was the one to pick my name. As it happened, I ended up looking the most like her, with blue eyes, squarish face and Dutch nose, and I identified closely with her (it wasn’t until many years later that I appreciated how much I shared with my father).  She chose my first name after a woman she admired, a tiny, brilliant, energetic, kind, English-speaking and Western-trained Chinese obstetrician who attended her when she had her first child in Peking.

My mother was in China largely because of frustrations trying to pursue higher education in the US, competing with returning military men after WWII; seeing this unexpected Chinese woman role model made a deep impression.  She almost named her first daughter after the doctor, but demurred, thinking it would sound silly back Stateside.  But the idea never went away, and the second daughter (me) got the name: “Khati”.  In case it ended up too burdensome, she added the English second name “Lyn”, which had the added advantage of sounding a bit like the Chinese doctor’s second name.

As it turned out, unlike my mother, I never shed my given names and spent my life happily with a “difficult” name.  I never met anyone with the same one but years later was astounded that the name was taken when I attempted to use it for an e-mail address.  A little googling suggested it might be South Asian (and one of the posts read, “Khati—she da bomb!”)  Hmmm, okay, I’ll live with that.

Over the years, introductions have evolved to go something like this:

Hi, my name is Khati.

Patty? Connie? Cattie? Kaatja? Cody?  (No, Khati. )

How do you spell that? (K—long pause—H—long pause—A-T-I.  No, not K-A…)

Is that short for something? (No.)

What kind of name is that?  (You’ll never guess {they never do}.  Chinese.)

Huh. It doesn’t sound Chinese.  (It is an Amoy dialect.)

You don’t look Chinese!  (I’m not.  I was named after someone my parents knew.)

Although there is a much longer story, as I wrote in “Righteous Persistence Brings Great Rewards” (Retrospect prompt “Reconnecting”), it usually ends there.

But although I say I was named after the Chinese Khati, it is a little more complicated.  I now realize that the name my mother chose for me represented some of her own hopes for accomplishment as a woman, and of course my middle name was the name she had already chosen for herself.  So really, I was named after my mother.




Profile photo of Khati Hendry Khati Hendry

Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    How interesting that your mother’s name evolved over time. Like her, I always knew when someone I DIDN’T know called me if they began the call by saying, “Hi Liz”. WRONG!

    You have explained the derivation of your lovely name before, but I can sympathize with your difficulties, as I always have to spell my last name (then tell how to pronounce it – rhymes with “wow”, means Peacock in German”). I have a collage at home of over 40 unique misspellings dating back to my working days. Not easy; I understand.

    I love that, ultimately, you decide you are named for your mother.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Once again, this prompt made me think back on something I hadn’t paid attention to, this time on how my mother had evolved her own name, and how that reflected on how I was named too. There’s always a story, isn’t there?

  2. Suzy says:

    Wonderful story, Khati, and I particularly like the dialogue you recreated that occurs whenever someone is first introduced to you. It reminds me of the movie “Mean Girls,” where the main character is named Cady and everyone is confused by it.

    I”m delighted by your comment to Betsy, that the prompt made you think back . . . that’s exactly what we are hoping for every week!

  3. Marian says:

    I love how you relished your unique name all along, Khati, despite the mostly humorous challenges you created in your dialog. I’ve always fantasized what it would be like to create your own name, and you’ve done it for me in telling your mother’s interesting story.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Maybe I attribute too much to my mother’s decisions to determine her own name and story—and maybe it was something she did subconsciously, but it does fit who she was. Never too late to come up with your own distinct name (or alter ego)—an aunt and uncle chose to call themselves “Panthea” and “Mansur” as adults—but then again no need.

  4. John Shutkin says:

    As usual, Khati, you give us a fascinating family story, and beautifully told. And I was hoping you would address your own name.

    I was particularly amused by your introductory “dialogs.” That said, your final paragraph — and especially your final sentence — are absolutely perfect. And joyful.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Thanks, John. And not that you asked, but yes, those are the characters for my name. True to Chinese ideograms, they connote concepts—one is youth and the other is some sort of version of strength or unusual quality. My dad (who studied Japanese more than Chinese and had a dictionary of characters)took a stab at translating it as “young rice” or maybe “clever child”. An article written about Khati said it meant “smart but naive”. Khati herself laughed and told me it meant “peculiar kid”. So there you have it.

  5. Thanx for explaining your very unusual name Khati, and your mother’s name story as well!

    And now that we’ve met, I’ll never mispronounce it!

  6. Khati,
    Your mother’s creative approach to names, hers and yours, is a good story, told with pride and whimsy. I take it that your middle name is Lyn, after your mother’s adopted name, after whom you were named? I am amazed by her will to change her name, and thereby separate herself from her past (does it work that smoothly?)

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Yes, my middle name is indeed Lyn. I think that my mother wanted to be her own person and, consciously or not, the name changes went along with that. Another twist is that when money matters were improving and she used her income from teaching to buy a nice living room rug, she inadvertently signed the check (the largest she had ever written) in her maiden name. Admittedly, it is easier to construct a narrative when she isn’t around to correct me, but I don’t think I am too far off on this one.

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