Tuesday, April 10, 2007

English Names

It is common for Chinese to choose an “English name” at some point during their education. The origins of these names vary: the names of characters in the cheesy model dialogues in text books, western media, or some connection to the original Chinese name. Most names are common: Amanda, Charles, Ellen, Tina, Colin, Andy, etc. However, there are a few extraordinary names that deserve at least explanation and probably a laugh. While these are not all my students, some standouts include (in ascending peculiarity): Auto, Bank, Coco, Tiger, Dragon,Candy, Marx, Ice Snow, Ghost, Killer, Forever 25, Chest Hair, and Sea Sickness.

In addition to simply bizarre name choices, there are a few unfortunate names that, due to common pronunciation pit falls here, will always be mispronounced. For example, I have met a couple of women named Vivian. The Chinese trained mouth does not easily make the sound of “V.” Thus, “Wiwian” will unfortunately be repeated in at every English introduction.

I say forever, but actually my students seem to have few qualms about changing their English names. It is hard enough to learn the names of all these students, let alone when one kid in each class announces that he is trying out a new name today.

While I joke about these names, in reality they are extremely helpful to foreigners. While I have tried, I fail to remember Chinese names at this point in the game. This practice of taking English names is partly for education and participation in the English world, but also to save westerners’ butts. On the flip side, English names can complicate an international work place. That is, you may know you're student's or colleague's English name but no one else in the office knows it!

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