My Chinese name is 陶(tao2)家(jia1)泰(tai4) – an archaic version of these characters is shown on my chop (reading from right to left and top to bottom).
The first character, 陶(tao2), is my family name and the spelling “To” comes from the Cantonese pronunciation.
The second character is my generation name. In the middle of the 19th century my paternal great-great-grandfather chose my family's generation names for the succeeding eight generations using the following couplet:
A generation name, common to the offspring of each generation, is typically given to the children1 of the the male descendants of the male descendants, etc.2 of the original ancestor (in my family's case this was my paternal great-great-grandfather). For example, the generation name of my paternal great-grandfather and his brothers is 敦(dun1), the generation name of my paternal grandfather is 厚(hou4), etc. Being from the fifth generation following my great-great-grandfather, the generation name for my children will be 詩(shi1)3 and should they choose to continue this tradition, the generation name for my grandchildren will be 書(shu1).4
The final character of my name was chosen by my parents. My father's nickname as a child was “a1 tai4” – I was and still am called this by my relatives and family friends.
In some families (including my own), generation names are only assigned to male children, however, my parents broke with tradition and gave my sister the same generation name. If Louise and I had born any girls, we would of course have followed suit. ↩
Although traditionally generation names are only assigned to the children of male descendants, my cousin Mary (crazy radical that she is) assigned her children the corresponding generation name from great-great-grandfather's couplet. ↩
Since I first wrote this in November of 2005, my two sons Henry Sam To and Franklin Ellis To were born in 2006 and 2010. After considerable deliberation with my mom and consulting the internet for auspicious characters for someone of Henry's birth date and time and considering characters with an appropriate number of strokes, we settled on 陶(tao2)詩(shi1)煥(huan4) for Henry's Chinese name. My mom recently went to China and after some research, selected 陶(tao2)詩(shi1)楷(kai3) for Franklin's Chinese name. ↩
If my descendants exhaust the eight characters of the poem, in order to continue the tradition, they would have to either write additional verses for the poem or begin again from the beginning. The latter is more common. ↩