By cultural standards, a last name is a birthright and a charge to uphold a family's reputation, exemplify family standards, and never dishonor one’s parents. In reality, the last name to a Polynesian player already means tradition, spirit, honor.
Take senior Mike linebacker Uani Unga, for example. When BYU played Oregon State last year, he had the name on his jersey changed from Unga to Taumoepeau to honor his mother's maiden name. Uani's twin brother Feti, who played for Oregon State, changed his jersey name from Unga to Taumoepeau to honor his mother throughout his senior year.
“Throughout this whole season, my brother has been using the name Taumoepeau on his jersey,” Uani told Total Blue Sports last season. “It’s in honor of my mom and that’s her maiden name. My brother is doing that to honor her and everything she’s done to get us here. This might be the last time he’ll wear a jersey, so he’s wearing the name Taumoepeau on the back for her to show her the love that she’s always shown him."
When the Cougars learned on Friday that their names would be replaced with Tradition, Spirit, or Honor, it caused an immediate uproar. Kyle Van Noy commented via Twitter that his last name holds special meaning because he was adopted. Not being able to honor the man and woman who made him a part of their family by wearing their name on the back of his jersey disappointed him.
"Not many people know that I am adopted," Van Noy tweeted. "I am carrying a last name that is Dutch and means a lot to me."
In the Tongan culture, the last name of a family often originated from the first name of a grandfather. To have his name be your last name means you carry with you the reputation of that man. Hence, it’s important to carry yourself in a way so as to not disgrace that name.
Take Devin Mahina for example. His father's first name was Bsc, which he was given to him to honor the accomplishments of a family member who received a degree. Those close to him called him "Mooni" or "Mahina" as his first name. Unfortunately, Devin's father passed away last February 6, and following the news on Thursday about the jersey names, Devin’s mother Lisa expressed regret.
"I'm kinda sad Devin won't be playing with Mahina on his back to honor his dad who passed away in February," said Linda on Twitter.
The same can be said of freshman linebacker Toloa'i Ho Ching. While serving in the Orlando, Florida Mission, his mother Luisa suddenly and unexpectedly passed away on May 7, 2012. Despite the loss of his mother, Elder Ho Ching never left the mission field to attend his mother's funeral. He felt his mother would want him to stay out and continue serving the people of Florida.
Upon his return home, he hung up his tie and put away his missionary nametag and put on a blue and white football jersey. On the back his jersey he planned to have the name L. Ho Ching inscribed. The letter L was for his mother Luisa.
"He wanted to put the initial of his mother's name on his jersey to honor his mother," said his father, Toloa'i Sr. "He wanted to do that for his mother. In the old days your dad's first name was your last name. That's how you were identified in Samoa, so that's how your last name came about. You were always identified by your father's first name and that's what everyone grew up knowing. Whatever you do reflects upon the image of your father and your entire family being the head of your family. The last name carries a lot of meaning back home in the islands."
Along with his mother's initial on the back of his jersey, Ho Ching also chose the number 98. It seems rather odd for a linebacker to choose the number 98, which is often reserved for offensive or defensive lineman.
"The number 98 is the birthday of his mother," said Toloa'i Sr. "She was born on the December 8th, and it was just another way to honor and show his love for his mother."
When Cougar fans learned that players’ names would be substituted for either Spirit, Tradition, or Honor, it caused a major internet firestorm. Even Coach Mendenhall – who is fairly new to social media – was trending on Twitter, a feat not easy to do by any stretch of the imagination. Mendenhall quickly reversed course with an announcement of his own on Twitter:
"Talked to my team tonite. They want to wear tradition spirt honor on jerseys for homecoming only. Last name for rest of the year. PERFECT!"
By Mendenhall changing his mind, it now truly is perfect. It's perfect in that the long-held tradition of BYU players wearing their names on the back of their jerseys is upheld. It's perfect in that those names will represent the spirit of their beliefs, and their families who taught them to live higher standards. It's perfect in that these players have committed themselves to live by those standards, thus bringing honor to the program and the university they've chosen to represent. This is what the last name on a BYU jersey means.