Story – China

How My Grandfather’s Middle Name Came to Be (the Hong Mountain)

“My grandfather’s middle name is Hong. It is a prestigious name, it seems, after the Hong Mountain in the village of WuXi. The story goes that a close blood relative of a Chinese emperor was buried there; his tombstone standing alone on this mountain overlooking the village. This lonely man was the direct heir to the emperor’s throne. He, however, didn’t want to rule the Chinese empire. He wanted to be free of imperial duties so he could be a free man. He left the imperial palace and wandered off as far as he could. He ended up in the village of WuXi and entered a temple. There he became ill and was taken care of by the village people.

The emperor dispatched search parties all over the empire looking for his last relative. One of these search parties led by one of the emperor’s close ambassadors arrived at WuXi, after hearing news about a strange sick man, whose identity no one knew of, showing up at this village. Upon the search party’s arrival, the ambassador went straight to see this unidentified man. He immediately recognized the heir to the empire and sent out for the imperial doctors. Unfortunately, the illness was in such an advanced stage that no Chinese medicine or medical expertise could have helped. The heir to the throne died in this village. Before his death, he made his last wish. He wished to be buried in this village and not to be brought back to the imperial palace.

The village people wanted to honor this guest. They gave him a respectful and proper burial. They chose the highest site on the Hong Mountain where no one has ever been buried before and made a tombstone fit for a member of the imperial family.

That’s where my grandfather got his middle name.” –Lee Lee Wong


This legend is an example of ethnic folklore as manifested in a middle name. Every name stands for something different, whether it be a personal quality or in this case, the history of an emperor’s descendent. In the traditional Chinese culture, one’s middle name carries just as much value as the first name. A typical Chinese name reads in the order of last, middle, and first name.  Choosing a name in the Chinese culture relies heavily on the name’s underlying history and connotations. Perhaps my great grandfather’s parents gave him that name to honor the story of the emperor’s descendent. The story’s themes create the name’s significance, which include individualism and self-discovery. These were probably traits my great grandfather’s parents wanted to instill in him.

It is common for the Chinese to tell stories about the origins of a surname or middle name. Culturally, the Chinese honor their ancestors and look to the past for answers to the present. Unlike American culture, which is forward-facing in the social and cultural context, Chinese culture is reliant on past events and stories. A great deal of attention is paid to the surname, which can say a lot about a person’s character and background.

My mom learned about this story from her father. She unfortunately cannot write in Chinese as well as she can speak the language, which is why I could not document this story in its original language, Cantonese. She told me that her grandfather’s name is something he and our family should be proud of and has essentially become a part of our heritage. The name ties our family to royalty and reflects hopes for grand accomplishments in life. The name’s imperial traits include wisdom, culture, richness, and a long legacy of family ties. While my mother didn’t know him very well, she said he loved to read and learn which instill the name with even more meaning. My grandfather takes great pleasure in sharing stories of this kind because he believes the name’s significance will continue to run in our family and bring us good fortune.