My Name is 張楷翊, but You Can Call Me Kevin – Personal Thoughts on Asian Heritage Month.
Updated: May 28
I have decided to take this time during Asian Heritage Month in Canada to share with everyone the story behind my name and my company’s name, and by doing so, also recognize my own cultural identity as an Asian Canadian business owner.
When I was born, my parents consulted with a Feng Shui teacher who specialized in helping parents select the most auspicious name for their newborn child. A set of names is usually derived from the year, month, day, and time of birth – using what I like to imagine some form of analog-based traditional machine learning algorithm.
My name starts with my family name, Chang (張), just like all Chinese names do. Chang (張) is made up of Bow (弓) and Long (長), and it is thought to represent “spreading out” as an arching bow. Today, it is mostly associated with the word for counting thin items like “a piece” of paper.
The first part of my given name is Kai (楷), it is the word for a Chinese script, calligraphy and font and the dictionary meanings of 楷 is upright/ethical or model/pattern. The character is made up of the radical word on the left, wood (木), representing the calligraphy brush, to the top right is, compare/competition (比), and just below is white (白), representing calligraphy paper.
The second part of my name is I (翊) which contains the component word on the left, standing (立), and feather (羽) on the right. The dictionary meanings of 翊 are to assist; to help, wings; or to fly. And because my parents wished for me to excel in my studies and to live by the motto, “the pen is mightier than the sword”, the name that they chose for me (as they felt that it best reflected the values and qualities they wanted me to have) was Kai I Chang.
I grew up switching between two names: 張楷翊 and Kevin, the name I adopted after immigrating to Canada from Taiwan. Growing up in Canada, my Chinese name would be my familial name and everyone outside of my family would call me Kevin. It was not until I started working in the US in my 20s that people outside of my family started calling me Kai as well. My boss at the time encouraged me to accept my cultural heritage and to start using my given name.
Much literature has covered why Chinese immigrants in North America take on Anglicized names. I’ve listed some resources at the bottom of the blog if you are curious, but I will only speak about how my Chinese name also became Kevin. Let me explain.
Before my family and I immigrated to Canada, we first visited an uncle in the US. He told my parents that we should all adopt Anglicized names to avoid the risk of discrimination. Since my name Kai starts with the letter “k”, and Home Alone 2 recently came out, Kai, became Kevin (McCallister), simply based on alliteration.
As I reflect on the Asian Heritage Month and what it means to me, there is levity to how my name, 張楷翊 , which carries with it deep cultural roots, from each brush stroke in the Chinese characters and its spiritual connections to Feng Shui -- is condensed into a fictional Hollywood blockbuster film. 😱
I am proud of my given name and its complexity as it allows me to stay rooted in my culture despite growing up in Canada, but I also like having the opportunity to alternate between my two names as it affords me the freedom to define my own voice and identity as a Chinese Canadian. Having said this, I want to give people options so feel free to call me Kai I, Kai, or Kevin - I will respond to all three!
My Company’s Name
When it came to naming my company, I had a very clear vision for what the company name should be – I wanted something that was easy to pronounce, something that would incorporate my culture, and also reflected my identity. It was perhaps opportune that Kai also means "model/pattern". Combined with I’s “to support/assist” it was only natural for me to call the company Kai Analytics. After all, we are in the business of building statistical models to assist our clients in turning data into actionable insights.
It might seem like unnecessary trouble to go through for a company naming process (finding a name that is both easy to pronounce in English and that reflects my cultural heritage), but if there’s one thing economics has taught me, it is how to find the best possible solution from multiple constraints (Lagrange Multipliers λ for the geeks like me out there). And I think that the name Kai Analytics, accomplishes exactly that.
I must admit, there were times when I wondered if having an Asian sounding company name might cut me off from some opportunities due to implicit or aversive discrimination. But when I reflect on the meaning behind my name and the work I have accomplished with my team, I am grateful that Kai Analytics has been able to move forward despite the external pressures (e.g., COVID-19) we have faced over the past two years.
Finally, since I am in the business of qualitative analysis, I can’t finish this blog without conducting a text analysis of my Chinese name. Below is a network graph mapping my name to other compound Chinese words. For example, 楷書, is the word for Chinese Script (font) and 翊贊, is the word for support.
Thank you for reading. 感謝大家的閱讀。
If you are curious about what other Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have to say about having Anglicized names, or are simply curious about this topic in general, here are some resources below that could be of interest to you.