There’s nothing I love more than when my Chinese husband comes bursts into our apartment after a long day of classes, and calls my name.
“Laopo!” he’ll sing out, as he stomps his feet on the mat by the door.
Well, Laopo (老婆, [lǎopó]), which is another word for “wife” in Chinese, isn’t really my name. But the sound of it is as soothing as a cup of Jasmine-scented green tea.
I never thought that I would rather be called “wife” over Jocelyn.
When I was young, my parents never called each other “wife” or “husband,” instead peppering their evening adult conversations with their real names, “Claudia” and “Bob.” The whole idea of using “wife” or “husband” between a wife and husband was the verbal equivalent of turning a marriage into a form letter.
But when I started dating John in Hangzhou many years ago, he began using that “L” word — Laopo — in reference to me.
Wife? Me? We hadn’t even married yet, and all of a sudden, here he was, claiming me as his lifelong partner in what seemed to me as the most impersonal way possible.
To him, however, we were already headed for marriage (which is also why he moved in so fast). So he wanted to mark the fact that we were just like family. Like a husband and wife, or “Laopo” and “Laogong.”
“Only family can use these words with each other, so it makes you feel closer,” he confessed.
But as the years went by, and we became closer through marriage, I also became closer to the idea of being called “Laopo” — and farther from the idea of him calling me Jocelyn. So much so, that I can’t stand it when he calls me Jocelyn anymore.
“You sound just like my father!” I exclaimed, when weeks ago, after seeing my parents, he tried mimicking the exact way my own father loves to call my name.
Maybe it’s the way my husband sings it out so joyfully every time, as if it was the first time we had ever seen each other in years. Maybe it’s because I am proud to be the only one he could claim as his “Laopo.” Or maybe it’s because, deep down, marriage to John has changed me so much that I’ll never be the same “Jocelyn” ever again.
For the couples out there, what names do you use with each other? Do you prefer Laopo or Laogong over using your first names?
P.S.: For another fascinating Asian take on the role of names in a family, pick up the beautifully written novel, The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri.