Your First Name, My Surname (你的名字,我的姓氏) is a famous Cantonese pop song by Jacky Cheung. This song illustrates two lovers and their love story. Their happily ever after is accomplished by having the woman using the man’s last name, as the song title depicted. The lyric goes like this…”your last name with my surname, our story completes perfectly. After that, we have nothing to worrying about, even our story is ordinary, but with you, it’s more than enough” (你的名字和我姓氏，成就這故事。從此以後，無憂無求，故事平淡但當中有你，已經足夠。Please forgive my poor translation.) For the few weddings I have attended (I don’t like attending weddings because they are boring), it is a “must-play” song.
In Hong Kong, it is not required by law to change the woman’s last name after getting married. Instead, we do not just simply change the last name, we add husband’s last name in front of woman’s full name. For example, if a woman’s name is “CHAN Mei Lai” and her husband’s name is “LEE Tai Ming”, the woman may change her name to “LEE CHAN Mei Lai” legally.
In the Church, one of the ways to identify married and single sisters is by looking at their names. If the sister’s name has four Chinese characters, mostly likely this sister is married (except those “double” Chinese surname such as Au-Yeung, Sze-To, Chu-Kok…etc). If the sister’s name has three Chinese characters, she is either single, divorced, or keeping their last name for other reasons.
For some girls, adding their husband’s last name is a life-time achievement and life-time goal. Apparently, for some people, it is the victorious moment in their lives. It is a victory moment for them to announce to the world that they are out of the single-adult-loop. It responds to Jacky Cheung’s song, “…our story completes perfectly”.
This naming system creates a love-and-hate relationship in Mormon culture. I have seen the newly-weds eagerly change their last names right after they are sealed in the temple by updating their name on facebook. I have seen some divorced sisters getting upset because some people still call them by their ex-husband’s last name. You can imagine how awkward the situation could be.
From my observation, there is another significant usage of this naming system. Sisters in the Church would call each other by the combination of the husband’s last name and the sister’s last name. For example, if a sister’s name is “LEE CHAN Mei Lai”, she is referred as “LEE CHAN”. Or if a sister’s name is “WONG CHEUNG Siu Ling”, she is referred as “WONG CHEUNG”. As adding a husband’s last name seems to be a crowning event for one’s life, but their first names are being forgotten.
As a single sister, no one would ever call me by “KWOK”. The worst case is most people do not even know my full name. When my full name is called during church meeting, people look around and ask, “Who’s that gal?”
I have once heard, ”It isn't the words that we use tells the story. It is what those words mean changes the narrative." By adding/deducting one simple Chinese character could make a huge difference to one’s life.