The Importance of Names
in "A Pair of Tickets"


by Betty Dailly

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In Amy Tan's "A Pair of Tickets" (the last chapter of The Joy Luck Club), the understanding of the importance of names is the key to truly apprehend a sacred relationship between mother ("Suyuen") and daughters (June or "Jing-Mei", "Chwun Yu" and "Chwun Hwa").

To understand the story as a whole, it is necessary for us to know the meanings of their names. The mother and daughters' names each bears its individual meaning, but all these names are indeed "intertwined" into a deeper relationship among each other. It is through a deeper understanding of these Chinese characters' names that opens our eyes (readers from different cultural background) to see how mother and daughters are strongly attached emotionally.

In Chinese culture, names are not merely "labels" to distinguish one from the other nor are they used as "mediums" that "reflect" one's identity and individuality; names represent all the long-term greetings and expectations from parents to children. A name is the essence of a person, and it is a gift (the first gift) from parents to be carried for the rest of one's life.* A person's name is like a title of a book or poem: we use a title to identify the nature of the book and its "essence", while we use a name to identify a person and his/her individuality. Chinese name is distinctive in a sense that each name has a story behind it, e.g. June's mother named her twin daughters in China "Chwun Yu" and "Chwun Hwa" since they were born in spring ("Chwun"), "Yu" (rain) was given to the first born and "Hwa" (flower) to the second which indicate their sequence of birth ("rain comes before flower": par. 88); furthermore, rain and flower are nature's elements that exist for one and the other, indicating these twin daughters would stay inseparable.

In this story, Tan has not left out the importance of names which is essential in our understanding of the meaning and purpose of her writing. What would be the impact if she left out the explanation of the meanings of those characters' names? Would there be a difference? The answer is obvious. The meanings of mother and daughters' names are the "essence" of the whole story that necessitate us to apprehend the mother's deep love for her daughters.


The scene where Suyuen had to abandon her
twin-daughters in China

(Photo from The Joy Luck Club Movie)

As we read along the story and find out the reason why June's mother, Suyuen, had to abandon her twin daughters from her first marriage fleeing Kweilin in China, we realize June's and the twin- daughters' names are linked directly to Suyuen's ("long-cherished wish"). June and readers all start to know how much Suyuen longed to reunite the family. All of these tie together to give us a better understanding of how important it is for June to accomplish her mission for her passed away mother, as to fulfill her long-cherished wish--the only hope she had all lived for, and thence finally reveals a true loving relationship between mother and daughters.



Suyuen with June (Jing-Mei), her Chinese-American daughter
(Photo from The Joy Luck Club Movie)

Born and raised in America, it never occurred to June, Suyuen's Chinese-American daughter, to ask about the origin and meaning of her Chinese name, "Jing-Mei". It is only normal for her to be called "June" rather than "Jing-Mei" or "Jandale" in her daily life in the United States. External factors such as language, school education, social life, lifestyle, and the environment where she lives in all contribute to her "American" way of thinking rather than the "Chinese" way. June is conscious of being "American" rather than being "Chinese" or "Chinese American". Not finding herself a bit associated with China, she simply denied the fact that she had any Chinese whatsoever below her skin (par. 2). Psychologically, since she was small, she repressed herself from "thinking" and "feeling" Chinese even she knew she was born Chinese. She did not know what it meant when her mother said "It's in your blood, waiting to be let go." (par. 3). When June was young, she particularly found her mother's "telltale Chinese behaviors" embarrassing (par. 4). She had always found herself feeling extremely uneasy to accept the idea of being a Chinese. And not until she turned thirty-six years old (after her mother had just passed away), and she was physically in China for the first time to meet her twin sisters could she realize what it meant to be Chinese (par. 5).


Suyuen, mother of June (Jing-Mei), Chwun Yu and Chwun Hwa
(Photo from The Joy Luck Club Movie)

Her mother's death, which June's father believed the idea that the twin daughters were dead had killed her, is a "trigger" for June to discover more about her mother and her "long-cherished" wish to reunite with her long lost twin-daughters in China. Not until June's father had the conversation with his aunt, "Aiyi", telling his wife's story fleeing Kweilin in China and explaining the meanings of her twin daughters' name whom Suyuen had to abandon did June finally understand her mother's good intention of naming her "Jing-Mei'. June was not interested in knowing the meanings of her own Chinese name and her mother's before her mother passed away; and now she realizes how much the name "Jing-Mei" means to her mother, and how it relates to her half-twin sisters in China and to her family as a whole. Understanding the meaning of her mother and twin sisters' names, June discovered that she had always been the only daughter whom her mother transferred all her hope to, and she would be the one to bring back her mother's long-lost hope.

During all those years when June was not interested in her "Chinese" roots, she was not aware of her "Chinese" identity that has been dwelling inside her waiting to be let go. To understand why her mother named her "Jing-Mei" is to discover this "Chinese" identity that has always been in her blood. She is no longer the June May she knew; she has become a person who now sees what part of her is Chinese. It is so obvious. It is her family. It is in their blood. After all these years, it can finally be let go (par. 143). This change of June's identity parallel to the change of cities' English names and spellings e.g. from Guangzhou to Canton, from Chungking to Chongqing, and Kweilin to Guilin, etc... (as June discovered this while reading her China travel Guidebook) as well as the change of street names after the war.

One more thing to note in regards to June's name is that it has three different forms (spelling and pronunciation)--"June May", "Jing-Mei" and "Jandale". As we all know, "June May" is her American name which is commonly used, and "Jing-Mei" is the Chinese name which she uses to introduce herself to others in China (June addresses herself as "Jing-Mei" indicating that she recognizes more and more of her new Chinese identity), and "Jandale" is the "milk name"* which is mostly used by her close relatives such as "Aiyi" and her twin sisters (see par. 50 and par. 143).

Without understanding the meanings of her own name, "Jing-Mei", and of her mother's and sisters', June would have never realized what "long-cherished wish" meant to her mother, and she would not have known how much her mother cherishes her and her twin sisters in China. By reuniting with her twin-sisters, June had at last done the only important thing for her mother--to bring her long-cherished wish come true. The daughters had finally came to know more about their mother and her hope.



Jing-Mei (in the middle) reuniting with her twin sisters,
Chwun Yu and Chwun Hwa (next to June), in China
(Photo from The Joy Luck Club Movie)

Extending Suyuen's (the mother's) will and fulfilling her dream, her spirit can finally be let go; she will always live among her daughters whose names she had heartfully chosen, and now, they all truly know what kind of mother she has always been.
 
 

[Photo of Actresses in The Joy Luck Club Movie]
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