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Young Chinese English names

21 Oct

I’ve started teaching English in a university, which I shall not name in order to be able to speak freely and not cause any embarrassment to anyone working or studying there. It’s a good change but it’s also a tough job as the students have a lower level than what I expected, given the class books the administration asked me to teach from.

I teach kids who are between 18 and 20 years old. Regardless of their age, they are all freshmen students. Most of them come from Shanghai or cities around, such as Hangzhou, Suzhou or Ningbo. A small number of them come from further afar. As far as I know, there are no or extremely few students from abroad, except from Taiwan, which people in the People’s Republic of China probably don’t consider to be “abroad”.

Before becoming aware of the kids’ English level, I was mostly surprised, not to say totally bewildered, at their choice of English names. I may have mentioned this in a previous post, but basically it is quite difficult for us foreigners to pronounce correctly Chinese names (because of the tricky tones), let alone remember them. Likewise for Chinese people with our names. So we all play each other’s game by choosing Western or Chinese names to make things a little bit easier for everyone. In my classes for example, I’ve got many very classical – if not old fashioned – names such as John, Kevin, Karl, Sylvia, Georgina, Rose, Wendy, Maggie etc. There are some original but totally acceptable ones: both Coco and KiKi, Young or Aster. But a few students have taken that practice to a whole new level. Please meet: Black, Lion, Lucifer (wtf???), Dolce (where is Gabbana I felt like asking him), HoC, Krayza (everytime I speak of him, I say he’s a gangsta and move my hands rap-style), Phoenix (a girl), K.O. … The other day I met one of the original kids in the tube and took the opportunity to privately ask him how he had chosen his name. He said he was inspired by a little known Canadian basketball player…

It must be fun to give yourself absolutely any name you want, just to be understood by your English teacher. Also, it’s not official at all except for the university administration and still there’s room to doubt that. I’ve had two or three students who had different names in different classes. Thankfully, I am fairly good at recognising faces and therefore asked those whom I did recognise to stick to a single English identity in all their classes.

I’ve told this to many of my friends and so those of them who will read this will not find it very novel. I just thought it was both interesting and hilarious and, mostly, made a good story. That was until tonight when I met J., a lovely girl, who works for a big international bank here and also has a colleague called Lucifer. She then completely killed my story by telling me than one of her colleagues is called Watchman and another one called, brace yourselves, … … … … Durex!

Aì Lì Yà

18 Nov

I now have a Chinese name and it is Aì Lì Yà! Aì being for my surname and, unsurprisingly, Lì Yà for my first name. In Chinese culture, everything goes from the general or wider context to the particular. So you always put your family name first and you introduce yourself this way as well. The same goes for giving or writing dates, the year first, followed by the month and day.

Back to my name, I did know, thanks to a Google search a few months back now, that my first name would most probably be Li Ya. But I didn’t know what it could mean and let alone all the intonations. My friend Clo, who has been studying Chinese since she’s 16, told me then that it could mean beautiful (Li) duck (Ya). We cracked a few jokes about it but I did like it very much and that’s how my blog was named Joli Canard.

When H. said I should have a Chinese name and named me Aì Lì Yà, I immediately asked her about the meaning to see if I would be officially baptised Beautiful Duck. So Aì means to love (except that the character above is only a phonetic one indicating the surname) and Lì does mean beautiful. I anxiously asked if Yà meant duck but H. looked at me, frowned slightly but unconvincingly and ignored my question outright. She said Yà means the second one. Sorely disappointed, I told her the beautiful second does not mean anything! She said: “Why? Do you want to be the first one?” Almost insulted by this remark, I said that I just wanted my name to mean something a little more meaningful! She calmly raised her eyes to the ceiling, thought for a moment and then said: “It could also mean Asia.”

So here we are, I am called she who loves beautiful Asia.

(I still love duck though…)

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