What’s in a Name? Familial Ties that Bind

Names can mean different things to different people—for these folks, it's a close connection with ancestry

Our names can help us connect with our families.

Illustration by Vivian Lai

Words by Samantha Pak

Whether they connect us with our family and cultural heritage, or help us stand out in our careers, names hold different significance for different people.

In this series, we speak with folks about their names, what they mean to them and try to answer the question, What’s in a Name?

Names hold different meanings to different people but one that rings true among many is how our names connect us to our families. Whether it’s trying to make others proud, finding ways to honor your ancestors amidst life changes or embracing where you come from, names can be that common thread that ties us to our familial roots.

Living up to the family name

Matt Dela Cruz spent his younger years trying to live up to the family name.

Matt Dela Cruz

Matt Dela Cruz’s (MATT DAY-la CRUZE) relationship with his Filipino last name has been complicated.

The name Dela Cruz is a great source of pride for his father’s family. When his family visited the Philippines, many relatives told Dela Cruz the same thing: “You’re a Dela Cruz.”

He was in second grade at the time, but understood their pride. They were a family of engineers. It was a big name to live up to.

Dela Cruz felt even more pressure after graduating from the University of Washington and moving to New York to pursue a career in performing arts.

“They were ok with it but they weren’t,” he says about his family.

His family wasn’t disappointed in his career choice, Dela Cruz says. They were worried about his ability to support himself. At one point, he called his mom from New York to tell her about a job at Studio 54, where he was paid about $8 an hour. Her response was, “You’re getting paid something.”

“I feel like I’m fucking up,” Dela Cruz says about that time, adding that he felt he was letting the family name down.

After three years in New York, Dela Cruz moved back to the Seattle area, where he’s been for about seven years. An entertainer by nature, Dela Cruz still writes and performs but it’s his day job that has his family more at ease. He now teaches drama at a K-8 school, where he’s mostly known by his last name, as Mr. Dela Cruz or Mr. DC.

Familial connections to imperialist Korea

Priscilla Iwamiya's maiden name Min ties her to Korea's last empress, Queen Min.

Priscilla Iwamiya

When Priscilla Iwamiya (pri-SIL-UH EE-wa-MI-ya) got married, her stipulation for taking her husband’s Japanese last name was that her maiden name became their children’s middle name.

Her maiden name, Min (MIN), is not common among Koreans. And unlike those with more common last names like Kim, all Mins are from the same clan and related. And one of Iwamiya’s relatives was Empress Myeongseong (1851-95), also known as Queen Min—the last Korean empress before the Japanese occupation.

Iwamiya’s grandfather lived through the occupation. He spoke Japanese, but in an act of resistance, he refused to teach his children or grandchildren the language.

The irony that she has a half-Japanese husband and children with Japanese names is not lost on Iwamiya. But Iwamiya did push to keep aspects of her Korean heritage. When her father-in-law said she should learn how to speak Japanese. Her response was immediate: “No, you should learn Korean.”

While Iwamiya’s pride in her maiden name is clear, her first name is another story. With an antiquated name like Priscilla (after the King of Rock and Roll’s wife, of course), Iwamiya knows she’s not the old white lady people expect. But her Korean heritage doesn’t make her any less American—even if she doesn’t “fit the profile.” Iwamiya’s father is a U.S. Army veteran and she was born at the Madigan Army Medical Center on the Fort Lewis Army Base (now Joint Base Lewis-McChord) near Tacoma, Washington.

Published on May 29, 2023

Words by Samantha Pak

Samantha Pak (she/her) is an award-winning Cambodian American journalist from the Seattle area and assistant editor for JoySauce. She spends more time than she’ll admit shopping for books than actually reading them, and has made it her mission to show others how amazing Southeast Asian people are. Follow her on Twitter at @iam_sammi and on Instagram at @sammi.pak.

Art by Vivian Lai

Vivian Lai is an experienced L.A.-based graphic and UI designer with a proven track record of problem-solving for diverse clients across industries. She is highly skilled in design thinking, user experience, and visual communication and is committed to staying up-to-date with the latest design trends and techniques. Vivian has been recognized for her exceptional work with numerous industry awards.