Lee Hsien Yang reveals the story behind the names in the Lee family

And why the grandchildren's surnames are "Li".

Martino Tan| March 30, 12:55 PM

Lee Hsien Yang, the second son of Lee Kuan Yew, delivered his eulogy for his father at the cremation service in Mandai Crematorium on the evening of Sunday, March 29.

This was his second speech after his public eulogy at the University Cultural Centre, National Unviersity of Singapore in the afternoon.

What is the meaning behind the names of Lee's three children - Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Wei Ling, and Lee Hsien Yang? Why are the surnames of Lee's grandchildren's "Li"?  

The speech by the Chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and former Singtel CEO provides answers to these questions. 

1. Why Lee Kuan Yew decided not to use Harry as his name: "He was given the name 'Harry' at birth but he soon grew to feel that that did not fit him and the fact that he was a son of Singapore .When Papa was 10, his youngest brother Suan Yew was born. Papa who was only 10,  persuaded his father and mother that it was not a good thing to give Suan Yew a western name.  And so at 10 years old, he had prevailed in the household. Decades later, when Papa entered politics, he found the name Harry, to be a political liability. And many think it was for politics that he found it but in truth for two decades before that he had felt this was not right for him."

2. The significance behind the name "Hsien Loong": "It means “illustrious dragon”. It was an appropriate and auspicious name for a boy, especially one born in the year of the dragon."

3. The meaning of the name "Wei Ling": means “the beautiful sound of tinkling jade”. I suppose Mama thought that that was an appropriate and feminine name for a daughter, thought I don’t think it in any way circumscribe Ling’s development!"

4. People's misconception of the name "Hsien Yang": " Some people think that since I am called Yang, I must be born in the Year of the Goat. Actually it is several years berfore me, if I was born in the Year of the Goat, I would be 60 now. The name 扬 which mean 赞扬 or 表扬 and indeed it has more literary origin. It was taken from (三字經). Though my mother used to tease me before I knew this and said, your name means that you are an “Illustrious show off”. Actually the phrase that it was taken from was 扬名声,显父母 which means to bring honour and glory to your parents."

5. Why the grandchildren's surnames are spelt "Li": "I have taught my children never to mention or flaunt their relationship to their grandfather, that they needed to make their own way in the world only on their own merits and industry. I have suggested to them that should they be asked whether they are related to Lee Kuan Yew, that a good answer was to say my name is spelt “Li”. Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s name is spelt “Lee”. “Li” is one of the most common Chinese surnames in the world and given it’s a Chinese surname it is probably one of the more common surnames in the world. This response which I suggested was not meant to mislead or to obfuscate. It is born out of a desire to be recognised for who we are as individuals and not for who we are related to. We are immensely proud of Papa and his achievements, and yet perhaps it is part of our DNA to seek our own way in life. "

*A reader pointed out that "Li" was the most widely used romanization convention.  "Li" is the hanyu pinyin name for "Lee". 


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Top photo from Prime Minister's Office Youtube channel

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