The Woman Whose Name Is So Unusual It Can't Be Written

Lensey Namioka was born in Beijing, China, the daughter of linguist Yuenren Chao and physician Buwei Yang. They eventually made their way to Hawaii, then to Cambridge, Mass., and finally to Seattle, Wash., where they settled to raise their children. Their first daughter, Aki, was born in 1959, followed by a second daughter, Michi, who was born in 1961. The family moved to Seattle in 1963, which is where their third daughter was born. Yuenren was cataloging phonemes — a set of sounds that make them distinguishable to the listener and speaker — in the Chinese language and noted that there were two syllables which were possible to speak in the Chinese language, but couldn't be written. The syllables could be written in English as “len” and “sey,” so he named his third daughter Lensey. Today, Lensey Namioka is the only person in China known to have the first name “Lensey.” Written Chinese and spoken Chinese are essentially independent of each other, meaning that the name can be spoken in Chinese, but can’t be written in Chinese. Today, Lensey Namioka is 94 and is a writer of books for young adults and children. She writes about China and Chinese-American families, as well as Japan, her husband’s native country.