I was born on 5 January 1944. My father was being hunted by Japanese soldiers, and he was hiding in the hills outside Manila. My mother spoke no English or Tagalog, only Chinese, and at the hospital she did not know what name to give me when they said I had to have a name. According to my mother, it was a certain Dr. Darby, the American obstetrician who had delivered me, who suggested that I be called Paul, the name of her fiance, who had recently been tortured and killed by the Japanese.
One of my teachers at the Ateneo de Manila told me that the name Paul means “small” or “little.” As for my family name Lim, from Chinese calligraphy I learned that it is made up of two identical parts. Each one of the parts is the word for “wood” or “tree.” Put them side by side, two trees together, and you get Lim, the Chinese word for “forest.” And so my name, Paul Lim, means “a small forest.”
All through my childhood, my schoolmates never called me by my given name Paul, or by my surname Lim, but always by the two names joined together. To my ears it sounded as if they were taunting me, calling me Pauline, someone less than masculine. I hated it. And then, when I was in high school at La Salle, after my baptism into the Catholic faith, the Christian Brothers suggested that I was ready for Confirmation. They said I should pick a Confirmation name. After some thought, I decided on the name Stephen, the first martyr. According to the New Testament, when Saint Paul was a young man and was still known as Saul of Tarsus, he held the cloaks of the Roman soldiers as they stoned St. Stephen to death. I thought it would be appropriate to bring Paul and Stephen together, again. What it did, too, interestingly enough, was to forever split Paul from Lim. Finally, I was no longer Pauline, but just plain Paul. I don’t know why, but no one ever calls me Stephen. In my mind, Paul continues to witness the martyrdom of Stephen, even in a small Chinese forest in the plains of Kansas.