Editor’s Note: Readers of this site know Kaiser Kuo — the name, if not the voice; the legend, if not the man — for Kaiser is the resident superstar of the China-watching community, a leather-jacketed polymath whose China experiences include working at one of the largest companies in the world (Baidu) and co-founding one of the country’s most influential rock bands (Tang Dynasty).
But did you know Kaiser is also a prolific Quora columnist?
We’re not sure if “columnist” is the technical term, but he’s posted often enough on this question-and-answer platform — and often at length — that he might as well be. He’s a Quora Top Writer five years running, which means he’s provided ample content for us to mine in this new weekly column.
We begin with a most fitting question, asked on January 2, 2011:
How did Kaiser Kuo get the name Kaiser?
It’s a goofy botched patronymic. My father’s name (rendered in pinyin) is Guo Jingkai, with “Jing” being the generational name he shares with his brothers (and presumably with some of his first cousins). So his real “given” name is Kai, and my folks used that as the basis for a name. Many years ago, while cleaning out the garage back at my family’s old home in Tucson, Arizona, I came across a book from the early 1960s called What to Name the Baby, and in it I found the name Kaiser, given as an alternate to Caesar, with a faded pencil tick next to it.
Presumably Dad hadn’t studied much of the history of the First World War: Even though his father was a very eminent historian, my father alas chose to study applied physics and engineering.
There’s a broader context to this, I think. Many Chinese of my parents’ peer group–sons and daughters of mainland intellectuals who had fled to Taiwan, and who had emigrated to the U.S.–gave their kids odd names out of a non-conformist impulse. Thus I grew up knowing kids named Baldwin, Stanford, Athena, Kingston and so forth. My own siblings are Meiklejohn (he goes by John, sensibly), I’m next, and then they got sensible with my younger brother Lee Jacob, who goes by Jay, and my sister is Miranda, but goes by Mimi.
It’s been a mixed blessing. Fortunately, not much rhymed with it and I was spared torment about it through some of childhood and later, it was such an odd name that people tended to remember it. It worked well for me when I was a reporter as it was the kind of byline that would stick in people’s heads. But it’s absolute hell every time I have to tell a German person my name. “Kaiser??” they ask in astonishment. “Zat ees not a Christian name, eet ees a Zurname!”
Kuora is a weekly column.