One of the perks of teaching abroad – particularly if you’re teaching young children – is the naming process. Every Chinese pupil wants an English name so he and she can be just like the teacher.
Not only do the kids want them, but naming the children was something I was told I would have to do. Miss Fan, my classroom assistant, told me that some of the kids already had English names – Norman, Winston, Thomas, Tommy, Tony and Charley did, for example – but many of the others didn’t. Miss Fan told me I should hand out names like prizes, rewards for proper classroom behaviour. I thought about it, and then decided to just give them out and not drag it on.
My main reasoning for this was the fact that at the time, I was four days into teaching and other then the five or six students that had English names already, I was referring to everyone else as “You there!” or “Hey!”*snapsnap* “Ýou!” and this was not a good thing. At the very least, I wanted to be able to yell something when they were causing trouble, and there was no way I could pronounce their Chinese names. Not that I knew them to begin with.
So for one entire class, that’s what I did. I had blank stickers and a black marker and I went around one by one and asked them what their Chinese name was. I tried to find an English equivalent in order to make it easier for them to remember, but this didn’t always work out. That’s when I began delving into my list of friends and family, and subsequently, my family has quite a few namesakes roaming about the streets of Shanghai today.
Miss Fan wanted an English name from me too, and this would turn into a running gag for the next two years. Naming children was one thing, but I didn’t want to be responsible for naming an adult.
My creative mind could only think of one thing to call her.
Me: “We have an English name that’s very close to your own. ‘Fawn’.”
Fan: “What does it mean?”
Me: “Fawn means ‘a baby deer’.”
Fan: “I like that name!”
…thankfully she later accepted my sister’s middle name – Erin – as her own. But to this day, she still laments over how she could have had the beautiful name ‘Deer’.
– excerpt from my journal, 2005
Names are kind of important you know? We all have one, we all need one, and most of us are kinda proud of them. One of the things I hate most is hearing about a teacher bragging that he gave his kids joke names – sure it makes for a funny story at the bar. Go you, big man. But these kids look up to their teachers, they love and – in most cases – respect them, and so they don’t know any better. All they know is Teacher gave them a name, and they don’t care too much about the meaning. Some are cute. Some are funny. One of the smartest little boys I’ve ever had the pleasure of teaching was named Potato (though to be fair, he wanted that name because the Chinese word for Potato – ‘tudou’ was in his actual Chinese name, and he understood we don’t typically name Western kids after vegetables), and during my first year here, I had the pleasure of teaching an entire fruit basket – Apple, Peach, Pear, Cherry and Mango.
….on that note, I did have a little girl in that same class named Marina. I loved that name, I thought it was beautiful and I told her so. Still, she wasn’t happy because she didn’t blend in well enough, so one day she came to me with a smile on her face:
Marina: “I have a new name, okay?”
Mandy: “Oh, but I loved your name. What’s your new one?”
Marina: *proudly* “Banana!”
And of course, there’s a common complaint about naming kids, boy or girl, Happy. I mentioned to one teacher I had a Happy in my class, and he complained about that being such a stupid and yet so common a name to give the kids. In my defense, Happy had chosen her name because her Chinese name was ‘Gaoxing’ which literally means ‘happy’. If you ask her, she’ll tell you that the day she was born, her parents were so happy, they decided to name her as such. And it suits her personality so well. The only other name I can think of that would fit better would be ‘Sarcastic’ or ‘Smart Mouth’ but then I’d be breaking my own rules. 😀
Anyway, I went off on a tangent again. Names. Need some thought. Never mind that there is a very good chance this kids is gonna keep that name you gave them for the rest of their life; they are going to use that name if they try to go abroad and fill out paperwork, or try to get a job with a foreign company. How many ‘Killer’s’, ‘Ray Gun’s’, ‘Sparkly’s’ and ‘Nintendo’s’ have you hired recently?
So yeah, I ask that teachers put a little bit of thought into it before they make the child a joke for life in the English-speaking world.