Richard and I are still somewhat uncomfortable with the fact that our students are required to use English names at school but I find the stories behind these names fascinating. Many were simply given them by their first foreign English teacher while others chose from a list of names when they first came into the school to register for classes.
Some choose a name that sounds similar to their Chinese name. Bradley’s real name is Li Borou. According to Chinese tradition, his family name comes first but reversed, it would be Borou Li which sounds a bit like Bradley. Now that he’s considering going to Canada to study, however, he’s concerned that Bradley Li (pronounced Lee) will sound odd so he has started signing his name, Brad Li.
Others are influenced by the entertainment world. Grace chose the name of a favourite character in an American television drama and was tickled to discover that I have a fondness for the name because it was also my grandmother’s.
Big Jacky, easily the tallest Chinese person I’ve ever seen, is class monitor for one of my university classes. His duties include stopping by the office when he arrives to pick up the key and unlock the classroom. He also insists on carrying my books up to the sixth floor for me every time! When I asked him how he got his English name, he explained that he’s a fan of Hong Kong actor and martial artist, Jackie Chan, who was actually born Chan Kong-sang.
Sissi (pronounced Cee Cee) was a nickname given to one of Richard’s students by her grandmother when she was just a little girl. Since it’s easy for even we foreigners to pronounce, she decided to use it instead of adopting a different English name. I think it suits her.
One of the most unusual names we’ve encountered is Dragon but his choice made perfect sense once he explained it to me. Apparently his Chinese name means little dragon.
Their English names aren’t particularly important to most our university students who are simply taking an English course because it’s a graduation requirement. When the year is over, many of them will never use the name again. When they wrote their midterm exams, I discovered that Patricia didn’t even know how to spell her English name! It’s a different story for our students who are preparing to study overseas, however. Recognizing that they will be using this name for several years, possibly the rest of their lives for those who dream of making Canada their permanent home, some of them aren’t satisfied with a name that was chosen hastily or thrust upon them by a teacher they’d only just met. Stacie is such a student. Last time I talked to her, she was considering becoming Monique!
Our school isn’t the only one that requires its students to choose an English name. Apparently this is common practice across China. When we met Michael, one of our "angels", in Jinan last week, I asked him how he got his English name and he explained that he’s a fan of both Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson.
After hearing many of these stories, I began to wonder what I would do if I had to choose a Chinese name. I’ve always been fascinated by the meaning of names so I wondered if my name, which means shining light, might have a Chinese counterpart. Over lunch one day, I asked some of our students if they knew of a Chinese girl’s name that meant light. Sure enough, Sissi told me that her mother’s name, Guang (pronounced Gwong), was the one I was looking for. Though no one actually calls me by this name, I’ve decided to adopt it as my Chinese name. I even like the look of its Chinese character. It reminds me of a burning candle or a lighthouse.
Since Chinese women take their husband’s family name when they marry, I guess I’m actually Meng Guang because Richard’s Munchkin class (his 12 year olds) recently decided that he should have a Chinese name too. They dubbed him Meng Fei, naming him after a popular TV anchorman who gained nation-wide fame as host of the popular blind date reality show "If You Are the One"!