The first thing a student does when they enrol in one of our English courses is adopt an English name. I’m not completely comfortable with the idea of asking them to give up such an integral part of their identity as their real name but it certainly does make life easier for us. Many of their Chinese names are virtually impossible for us to pronounce. I’m going to have a hard enough time remembering everyone’s English names let alone trying to learn those!
Though most of the students choose fairly traditional names, there are some unusual ones as well. I have a Dragon in one of my classes and Richard teaches a girl who calls herself Memory.
We came on staff at the beginning of the second semester so most of our students already had English names but a few new ones have enrolled this term. At the beginning of last night’s class, one of the office staff showed up at the classroom door with two new recruits. Please help them choose English names, she asked.
Richard and I always had trouble choosing girls’ names. We could have named several sons without any difficulty but, in both cases, it took us the better part of nine months to choose names for our daughters. I didn’t have nine months last night! Twenty-five other students were waiting expectantly for class to begin and I had two beautiful young girls to name!
I looked at their Chinese names, hoping to come up with something remotely similar. Written in Pinyin (the system used to write Chinese words using the Roman alphabet), the first girl was called Liiiao. I suggested Lee, Leah, Lynn or Linda. She chose my sister’s name, Linda. Yuqing was more difficult. Off the top of my head, I couldn’t think of a single English name that was anywhere close to that so I started reciting the first names that came to mind that weren’t already on the class list. She chose Kate. At some point, perhaps I’ll have the opportunity to explain to her that Kate is the name of a popular English princess. I think she’d like that.
Today, while Richard and I were in the office prepping for upcoming classes another new student arrived on the scene. Since she’ll be in one of Richard’s classes, he was given the honour of naming her. Having been privy to some of the names he suggested for our daughters in bygone years, I jumped in to help! Fortunately, there’s also a book in the office that includes a list of English names. Again, I suggested that we look for one that was somewhat similar to her Chinese name, Shuying. Richard suggested Cheryl which she quickly agreed to. I think she was beyond nervous and simply wanted to get the enrolment process over with! I hope she actually likes her name.
Perhaps before we leave here, I should turn the tables and ask my students to give me a Chinese name. I wonder what they’d choose?