A blushing cloud: 縉雲 (jìn yún). Every time I explain to someone that my name essentially means “a red cloud,” I am reminded of a line from a poem by the 9th century Chinese poet Li Shang Yin:


(The setting sun is endlessly endearing, but its beauty only lasts with the dusk).

I like to think of my kind of cloud as a swathe of red adorning the crepuscular blue, tufts of pink set against the sky.  They hang low, just above the horizon, their warm hues blending with the cool dusk. I like to imagine them suspended in limbo, basking in the residual glory of the sun.

For these reasons, I have always felt that I don’t deserve such a name, that somehow, names have to be earned through demonstrating the virtuous qualities embodied by the word. How unfair, I thought, to give a charming name to a child whose fate is still uncertain. A beautiful name can be a burden – an invisible bar set too high, condemning you to a life of perpetual disappointment. I guess that’s why I used to think that people should be named at the end of their lives, when their accomplishments and character can accurately be synthesized. Sophias should only be named Sophia if they’ve led a life of wisdom, Theodores should only be named Theodore if they truly are gifts from God, and red clouds should only be so named if they’ve achieved a life of brilliance.

But with time, I have grown to accept the concept of what I call “aspirational names”: names that become you and names that you eventually become. Great names can be a kind of blessing.  My name reminds me that when I walk on campus at dusk, my nose should not be glued to my cell phone screen, and that I should not remain oblivious to the clouds hanging above me.

At Princeton, the sense of being behind is continual. We’re afraid of falling behind our schedules, behind our friends, behind our expectations. It is difficult to ignore the fear that I’m wasting time whenever I want to roam around campus.  My name remains a vestige of that rare peace of mind neglected in favor of restlessness. 

Perhaps this fear is not something I can shed permanently; perhaps it is something that plagues every modern college student.  But I do hope that the next time I want to take a walk at dusk but feel as though I should get started on my next reading, I’ll look up at the sky and be reminded by my fellow clouds that it’s okay to not have anything to do for the next ten minutes. It really is.

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