What’s In a Name?

Photo by Sarah Whiting

My name is Siena, the 648th most popular girls name in the United States. Unsurprisingly, I have spent an extraordinary amount of time telling people that no, I am not Sierra, Savannah, Hannah, Anna, Selena, Serena or S-i-e-n-n-a, like the Toyota minivan or the muddy brown Crayola color, I’m S-i-e-n-a, like the city in Italy. You would think that would be enough name-related angst for a lifetime, but apparently, I’m a sucker for punishment. Last year, I decided to start insisting on the use of my full name (instead of just first and last): Siena Iwasaki Milbauer.

Why have I signed up for a lifetime of hassle with bosses, professors, friends, and name-tag-makers? Why would I intentionally do something knowing the outcome will be “could you please spell that 12 more times?” Because I intend to live a life worth capturing stories about — and when those stories are told, I want them to reflect who I am and where I come from.

I know that seems kinda dramatic, but cut me some slack: I’m 19, starting my first year of college and I’ve got this whole “I’m going to live a fabulous life, change the world for the better and just generally be awesome” thing going on. Shoot for the stars, right?!?

In all seriousness, it is really important to me that whatever I accomplish will reflect on my whole family and heritage. I am every bit my brilliant, tough-as-nails yet incredibly adorable Japanese mother’s daughter as I am my relentlessly charming, creative, and playful white midwestern father’s daughter. I want my name — which will start every story I’m involved with — to reflect that.

As a person who looks ambiguously multi-ethnic, I once had a conversation that went something like “You’re Chinese” “Actually, I’m half Japanese!” “No, you’re Chinese” “No, really, I’m half Japanese.” “You’re Chinese” “I’M HALF JAPANESE AND I THINK I KNOW MY OWN RACE!!!!!” It’s quite satisfying to force other people to go out of their way to assert my accurate ancestry!

My name is Siena Iwasaki Milbauer. I am descended from European and Japanese immigrants, from small-business owners and housewives, from American and Japanese WW2 veterans, from first generation college graduates and twenty-fifth generation samurai.

The actions of those relatives made me who I am and their stories inspire and motivate me. I can only hope that when my kids and grandkids and great-grandkids hear my own story — let’s call it “The Epic Adventures of Siena Iwasaki Milbauer” — they’ll be as proud of their heritage as I am.