Tuesday, August 03, 2004

english names

there's something i keep meaning to write about but never get the chance to. almost every student we teach has an "english" name. from the first day we went in the classroom, we were told that it would be easiest to learn these and keep track of the students this way. [of course now that we're in the 4th week i think that it would have been better to learn how to pronounce their actual chinese names, oh well].

so, on the first day, i was with my homeroom. their names were interesting, but not extraordiary: Jade, Vincent, Belinda, Yolanda, etc. there were even a couple students who didn't have names and they asked if i could give them one. now this is an interesting concept--asking a complete stranger to *name* you the minute you meet them. i told these two to think hard through the morning and during the mid-afternoon break [12-2:30 so the students can take a sleep] and ask me again later if they hadn't arrived at something themselves by then, which they did [Cissy and Victor].

sometimes the names have a phonetic link to their actual chinese names. for instance i think Jade's name is Jue [pr. "Jway"]. so that's pretty close. but over the next few days, the really interesting names started pouring in: Jet [favorite movie star Jet Li], Blue Star, Bluestar, Zurich, Tiger, Mars, Peace, Spring, Coral, Pearl, Joy, Rain, Fish, Chilly, Little Bird, Newboy, Potass [she's a chemistry major], Super, Conan King, and even a Lucky. this was the source of much hilarity when i introduced the students to my cat Lucky.

what's most interesting about these names is how they got them, and what they mean to them. most of the chinese students were given names by their family that mean something. not in the way ours do--our parents pick a person [like Bobby Kennedy, for me] to name us after and then we get that name. their names are also words that are used in the everyday language. sure, some Americans have this. the girl next door to my parents is named Summers. but it's less common. so they themselves--usually when they start studying english--pick a name they like. sometimes they change. yesterday, i met a student named HARRY POTTER...and her, yes, *her*, name used to be shelley. but when she started reading the harry potter books, she said she knew she had to change. the books were magical and took her to a wonderful place where anything was possible.

here is how another student got his name: on sunday night, frank, heather, and i met some random students for dinner and a bike ride. ["random" because none of them were in our homeroom classes and we really weren't sure how this date was arranged, but as we reintroduced ourselves at dinner, one student whose given name was Chun said he didn't have an english name. [another said his name was Albert...which he simply found by opening the dictionary and starting in the beginning!] so, after dinner, we started riding off towards east lake. Chun and i ended up in the back--there were 10 of us, riding single-file on a fairly busy lakeside road, which was gorgeous--and i asked him about his name. he says he is hoping, actually, that i can give him one. right then. this is a tremendous responsibility of course. so we ride for a little while longer and talk a bit more, and i just think about his name, Chun, and it comes to me--the obvious: Chuck. i tell him, i think rightly so, that Chuck is an endearing form of a more formal name Charles, and is used by people who are familiar with a Charles and want to use this name to express their fondness for him. so there you have it. now there's a guy named Chuck studying Information Sciences over here at Wuhan University.

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