Why Chinese students don’t need ‘English’ names - SupChina

Why Chinese students don’t need ‘English’ names

There is a segment of the population in the U.S. and the UK that is patently uncomfortable with the idea of Fatima or Qingqing wielding an American or British passport. Please let those people stew in their discomfort.

 

Illustration by Anna Vignet

 

History is filled with examples of individuals who have changed their names as external indicators of internal transformations. This kind of “rebranding” is common practice among revolutionaries: Pancho Villa, Leon Trotsky, Ho Chi Minh, and Vladimir Lenin all have birth certificates that bear little resemblance to their tombstones. Ras Tafari Makonnen became Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia. Kentucky-born and raised Cassius Clay took on the name Muhammad Ali as an adult. In one of the Bible’s most remarkable transformation stories, the exceptionally devout Jewish priest Saul was greeted by the Holy Spirit on the road to Damascus and subsequently transformed. Although he once denounced and persecuted believers of the “heretic” Jesus, Saul experienced an epiphany of the highest order. In the process, he became Paul, one of Christianity’s most famous apostles.

I, too, changed my name (sort of) at one point: When I left my small town for my freshman year in college, I introduced myself to people as “Becka” instead of “Becky.” “Becky” was a girl who hung out at the mall and hoped for sidelong glances from boys, but “Becka” was an educated woman on her way in the world. I recognize the value of changing one’s moniker to reflect a new (or newly public identity). Whether a nom de plume, nom de guerre, or stage name, changing your name is an outward indication of your changed (or changing) identity.

I have taught English to native and non-native speaking students of all ages for the past 16 years, and 98 percent of my Chinese students have taken an “English name.” Those names range from the sublime — Athena and Artemis — to the ridiculous — Potato and Bluebuff. While most foreign teachers of English in China accept this name-duality as the status quo, as a foregone and unassailable reality of teaching in China, I’ve never been comfortable with this. I just don’t love this practice, and I want all students to reconsider their participation in this social trend. Names are not just names, but markers of complicated identity politics. Please allow me to pontificate (as most teachers are wont to do).

1. No one else in the world does this.

I have asked many Chinese teachers of English, scholars of Chinese culture, and long-term foreign residents of China, and no one can provide me with a succinct answer to the question of why this adoption of the “English name” is so ubiquitous in China. When I taught in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Latin America, my students did not pick “English names.” Their names were equally difficult to pronounce, in my opinion, but there was no expectation to adopt a moniker from the West. Occasionally Yousef became “Joe” or Timeam became “Tim” or “Catalina” became Catie, but by and large my Arab and Brazilian and Romanian students remained precisely who they had always been. There was no expectation that they would have to develop an Americanized, Anglicized alter ego.

2. There is no such thing as an “English name” anymore.

In my first year teaching in China, one of the students in my Year 11 class was named Carlos. When I taught in Honduras my roll-book was chock-full of Carloses, but when I moved to China and began teaching at an English-medium, Australian-curriculum international school, I balked when I saw the name “Carlos” on my roster. “Carlos is not an English name,” I thought. “What the hell is this?!”

The name Carlos has unmistakable Spanish origins, yet my reaction points to a larger question: What makes a name an “English” one? There are millions of American citizens named Carlos, citizens who linguistically and culturally check all the boxes of what we have collectively decided that Americans do: shop at Target, pay taxes, drive SUVs, play Candy Crush, coach their little kids’ baseball team, etc. If this hypothetical Carlos is fully American, why could Carlos not be considered a fully “American name”? Similarly, there are plenty of Australians and Canadians named Dong and Zainab and Aziz and Soo-young — so why should Chinese students cling to Cindy and Dylan and Michelle as indicators of “Westernness”?

I would argue that when Chinese students choose “English names,” they’re actually choosing white names, names that hearken back to a period of our history when the majority of the population was of Anglo-Saxon origin — or felt compelled to assimilate. We don’t live in that America anymore, however, much to the chagrin of millions of Trump voters. Please don’t play into that whitewashed, Eurocentric notion of Americanness.

As you may know, there is considerable tension between the faction that wants to “Make America Great Again” — to return to a completely fictional past that was hegemonic, safe, problem-free, and mono-ethnic — and those of us who embrace our nation’s history of ethnic, racial, and religious diversity. Truthfully, the U.S. has never had a period in its history that was completely safe, problem-free, and mono-ethnic (although we have had several decades of hegemony). This tension is not uniquely American: much of the political skirmish over Brexit, the United Kingdom’s potential departure from the European Union, is arguably a referendum on the racial and ethnic composition of the UK. If the borders are porous and Svetlana and Boris and Ioana can easily move to Britain, get jobs, and eventually apply for citizenship, where does that leave John and Penelope and Julia?

There is a large segment of the population in the U.S. and the UK that is patently uncomfortable with the idea of Fatima or Qingqing wielding an American or British passport. Please, please let those people stew in their discomfort. The truth is that Bobby and Sally are no more American than Jamal and Shanice and Demetrius. When you choose a very white “English” name, you’re reinforcing a worldview steeped in racism, a worldview that I actively denounce.

3. You can be you, learning whatever language you want to learn.

I have always been uncomfortable with the idea that a language learner needs to adopt a new name in order to be fully committed to the language and its attached culture. From my first days in sixth-grade Spanish class, when I was given a mimeographed list of common girls’ nombres and told to pick one, I didn’t subscribe to this theory. Why can’t I be Rebeka and learn Spanish? Why must I be “Breza” or “Carmen”? When I began learning Italian in college and then Romanian as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I never felt that I had to be anyone other than Rebeka Fergusson-Lutz. When I moved to Qatar and picked up survival Arabic and learned to decode the Arabic alphabet, I was still Rebeka Fergusson-Lutz. When I moved to China and began the struggle of mastering oral Mandarin Chinese, I was still the fully unadulterated Rebeka Fergusson-Lutz. I am who I am and what I am, no matter where I go. Similarly, your essence remains unchanged, no matter where you live or study. Studying language can be a transformative experience, but you should not need to devise an English-speaking alter ego in order to learn a language.

4. If people care about you, they’ll learn to say it correctly  or they’ll try.

The other day, I decided to call my students only by their official Chinese birth names. For the entire day, I referred to my students only as their parents and grandparents would — but in my heavily accented Mandarin and with the incorrect tones, despite my best efforts. I wanted to show my students that I knew their Chinese names and could use them. It’s true that it is more difficult for me to remember their Chinese names, and even more of a challenge to nail the correct tones, but it’s my responsibility to learn them and I will.

Parents choose their children’s names with great circumspection and love. Even parents who are dysfunctional, absent, or abusive choose their children’s names with care. As such, calling a child by the names that the parent chose, in as close an approximation to the intonation and accent that the parent uses, is an act of respect. This is a way that teachers communicate to parents, “I’m going to take care of your most prized possession and your greatest achievement in life. Don’t worry.”

I have a good Aussie friend whose parents named him Hong Kong — yes, Hong Kong Nguyen. For these immigrant parents, Hong Kong was a glittering oasis of economic opportunity, mind-blowing technological advancement, and progressive Asian thinking. For these scrappy Vietnamese laborers, Hong Kong was a place of hope and fashion, of glitz and success. Departing from tradition in order to name a child “Hong Kong” shows these parents’ keen desire to encapsulate all these powerful associations into this tiny baby, this tiny baby that would grow up to be a man who could embody these dreams. Who am I to say that such a name is “stupid”? Why would I dare suggest that he use “Harold” or “Howard” instead?

If your foreign teacher repeatedly bastardizes your name in order to be “funny” or refers to you with a label that is “easier,” your teacher is actively flouting the intentions of your parents and asserting a brand of cultural superiority that has no place in the classroom. That is a micro-aggression that cannot and should not be ignored.

Ultimately, dear students, I will call you whatever name you prefer. If you’re transitioning genders from Samuel to Samantha, that’s fine. If you’re born “Harold” and prefer “Ryan” for various reasons, I’m happy to oblige you. If you want to be called “Sabre” or “Muffin,” okay. But my dear Chinese students, please consider keeping your names in the English classroom and while living and working abroad.

Rebeka Fergusson-Lutz

Rebeka Fergusson-Lutz is an author, artist, and educator who hails from Rochester, New York, and has taught high school English and ESL in Romania, Qatar, Honduras, and China. She and her colleague James Kennedy are currently writing a book for expat teachers in China.

24 Comments

  1. Jani Mustonen Reply

    This articles makes sense from the Western perspective and I agree with the idea of identity politics in general. But from the Chinese perspective, the article misses a few characteristics pertaining to the diverse name culture in greater China. The first is that foreigners coming to China need to adapt a Chinese name or at least a pinyinized name with characters for each syllable. This is because Mandarin has a very narrow pool of sounds so this only makes practical sense. Otherwise, a Chinese person seeing a e.g. Dutch name Janus would have no idea to how to pronounce it. Reflecting on this tradition, the Chinese very understandably want to change their names to Western names. The second is that it is not uncommon for the Chinese themselves to change their name a few times during a lifetime. A friend of mine changed his name after being accepted at the university, another changed his name to be more successful in business. Also, people tend be called by different names, to a much greater extent than in the west, in different situations. Your wife calls you laogong (husband), your dad calls you haizi (child), your sister call dage (big brother), your colleagues call you Chen Xiansheng (Mister Chen) and your friends have a nickname for you. In the past it was common for people to have courtesy names e.g. Mao Zedong’s courtesy name was Runzhi (润之). This is a lecture on Chinese names but I just want to point out that a Chinese person taking a foreign name reflects a very Chinese approach to names rather than being subjugated to a foreign culture. At best, taking a foreign name only adds its own twist to the rather complicated name culture and conventions in China.

    1. Hey Annie! Reply

      What the writer wrote: “History is filled with examples of individuals who have changed their names as external indicators of internal transformations. This kind of “rebranding” is common practice among revolutionaries: Pancho Villa, Leon Trotsky, Ho Chi Minh, and Vladimir Lenin all have birth certificates that bear little resemblance to their tombstones. Ras Tafari Makonnen became Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia. Kentucky-born and raised Cassius Clay took on the name Muhammad Ali as an adult. In one of the Bible’s most remarkable transformation stories, the exceptionally devout Jewish priest Saul was greeted by the Holy Spirit on the road to Damascus and subsequently transformed. Although he once denounced and persecuted believers of the “heretic” Jesus, Saul experienced an epiphany of the highest order. In the process, he became Paul, one of Christianity’s most famous apostles.

      I, too, changed my name (sort of) at one point: When I left my small town for my freshman year in college, I introduced myself to people as “Becka” instead of “Becky.” “Becky” was a girl who hung out at the mall and hoped for sidelong glances from boys, but “Becka” was an educated woman on her way in the world. I recognize the value of changing one’s moniker to reflect a new (or newly public identity). Whether a nom de plume, nom de guerre, or stage name, changing your name is an outward indication of your changed (or changing) identity.”

      And then she wrote: “I would argue that when Chinese students choose “English names,” they’re actually choosing white names, names that hearken back to a period of our history when the majority of the population was of Anglo-Saxon origin — or felt compelled to assimilate. We don’t live in that America anymore, however, much to the chagrin of millions of Trump voters. Please don’t play into that whitewashed, Eurocentric notion of Americanness.”

  2. Jenny Nieh Reply

    I agree with Jani Mustinen. I understand the well intentions of this article, but the author failed to understand Chinese people as a culture. I grew up in east and southeast Asua, and I spent the last ten years living in America trying to understand what it means to be of Chinese descent in the US and their perspective of people from Chinese cultures. I have never once in my life thought, my english name is an Americanized name, but simply a name a family member had chosen for me that helped me learn a language or culture. Whether or not it’s on my passport or part of my legal name, that’s simply a choice of my family, even myself. In recent years living in the US, people have mentioned the concept of an Americanized name to me, or said “your real name is beautiful, you should use it”, it surprised me to think they don’t think I know that. I absolutely love my Chinese name. I was named by my grandfather after the city of Nanjing at a time of piece, there’s so much history and meaning in my name. But when it’s translated to pinyin spelled out in english, it doesn’t translate, it’s represented by alphabets. And that’s okay. That doesn’t mean I substituted it with an English name that makes sense to an American or a westerner, it just means it’s an identity and that it’s okay to us if you don’t understand the meaning of our characters or names because you would only be able to do so if you knew the Chinese language itself. I think this article causes confusion in that it allows people to think that the Chinese people have less thoughts about their own culture, they value it less, when in truth Chinese people are just simply okay with it that Chinese culture and language difficult to understand. If and when you do speak Mandarin, you would know the world opens up to you and I’m afraid then they’d be correcting your pronunciation for everything all the time, for the most part, endearingly. Again, I understand where the author of the article is coming from, but as a Chinese person who grew up understanding both cultures, please understand that the Chinese culture is one that is complex and difficult to understand if you don’t ask the right questions.

  3. jixiang Reply

    Adding on to what Jani said above, it is a typically “East Asian” thing to take different names in different places. To some extent the Japanese and Koreans do it too. Foreigners have to take on a Chinese name in China, so it goes both ways.

    I also think the second point has little to do with why a Chinese student might say “my English name is Carlos”. It’s more about a naive assumption that English = foreign. Sometimes Chinese forms will ask you for your Chinese name or your “English name”, even though most foreign citizens are likely to have non-English name.

    1. Renata Reply

      Yes, I agree!! English = foreign, usually written with latin alphabet. People in China sometimes ask me for my “English name”, I always correct them saying it’s not an “English name”, it’s my “Czech name”.

      I also had to take up a Chinese name, because people said it’s too hard. And I even experience teachers forcing students to get a Chinese name, saying they can’t check their attandance withou Chinese name…

      I also had to change the pronunciation of my Czech name when living in the USA, because it was “too hard to pronounce”.

  4. Ben Jerry Reply

    This article is long, dry, and irrelevant. Why don’t europeans feel compelled to name their children Qingqing, Jamal, or Akiakeme? That is the reason why we should all stop pointing this stuff out like it is about something other than fitting in with other people/cultures. This is not about respect. This is about assimilation, blending. Many cultures would receive the european with open arms, they should just leave Africa because they are not welcome there, for obvious reasons. As a matter of fact, all people who have straight hair, or hair that is not kinky should leave Africa. The land is not for them. Africa is for real africans who have wolly/cottony hair, and dark brown skin. Everyone else who has straight hair should be friendly with the european because they are alike, and they love each other.

  5. Alison Sesi Reply

    I teach in Hebei : 24 classes with 56 students each. I agree with Jani that even for a Mandarin speaker like myself, dealing with and differentiating the monosyllabic names with distinctive tones is rather tricky, especially with so many students. I don’t insist on English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish names and am mostly happy with any names I can pronounce – eg Indian, other European…I do find it strange, though, that many Chinese continue to use an English name as adults in their professional life…but it’s a matter of personal choice, I suppose…and many foreigners are unaware of pinyin pronunciations, for example of the letter ‘X’, which is why ‘Xinjiang’ tends to be mispronounced by foreign newsreaders. In Hong Kong, Cantonese renditions of names, particularly surnames, are still used alongside Mandarin ones…again, personal and / or practical choice, I suppose. Sometimes, I have been asked to find English names for students and other children. In doing so, I go back to the meaning of the Chinese name and take great care to find a name that bears at least some relation to it. When I first came to China as a student, I was given a Chinese name, which others here can use if they find it easier to pronounce …and write in Chinese characters rather than Latin letters. So it works both ways!

  6. Sally Jiahui Ma Reply

    While you have valid points to encourage Chinese students not to adopt an English name in the current social climate where China is an emerging economic power house, have you considered when those practices started? Have you been in the shoes of an 8 year old going to school in the US 20+ years ago? I was bullied and picked on bc I didn’t speak a word of English. Forget about having a Chinese name where 98% of the people will butcher it! Even with an English name “Sally” my name was butchered. I wanted to change it to Carmen in middle school! What does that do to the confidence of a child? It made me feel that I was not enough, not worthy.

    Your Chinese students are adults? Teenagers? Tweens? They have more mature brain development and capacity to deal with bullies than an 8 year old.

    Now that I am in my 30s, I would be proud to use my Chinese name Jiahui and wished that I had never changed it legally bc a Chinese name sets me apart from all the Jennifers. I’d like to own it and tell the world that I am enough. I don’t need an English name to be accepted.

  7. Paul McQuaid Reply

    “I would argue that when Chinese students choose “English names,” they’re actually choosing white names”. I would argue that the author simply doesn’t like white people and used that prejudice as the basis for this article.

    1. Buckeye Sally Reply

      More of a political statement than an article about changing names. I believe the author sees everything through her political lens and automatically assumes her students want to assimilate to the atrocities of Western culture-specifically Trump supporters.

      “I would argue that when Chinese students choose “English names,” they’re actually choosing white names, names that hearken back to a period of our history when the majority of the population was of Anglo-Saxon origin — or felt compelled to assimilate. We don’t live in that America anymore, however, much to the chagrin of millions of Trump voters. Please don’t play into that whitewashed, Eurocentric notion of Americanness.

      As you may know, there is considerable tension between the faction that wants to “Make America Great Again” — to return to a completely fictional past that was hegemonic, safe, problem free and mono ethnic—“

      My children are fluent in Mandarin and have Chinese names. I think it’s more for convenience than choosing “white” names. Maybe she could ask her students WHY instead of perpetuating hate?

  8. Samuel Reply

    Rebecca is a Jewish name, not a “white American” one. And jews are… well… technically Asian. Other Jewish names include Samuel, Michael, David, Paul – need I go on.

    Point being that our identities are a lot more nuanced than the dichotomy between Asian and Caucasian and African. We are an amalgamation of different cultures.

    1. Hey Annie Reply

      As a woman who is African American with a family lineage influenced by white Anglo-Saxon America’s hard on for assimilation and the whitewashing of my African heritage… I felt the same way when I taught in China. Why would you choose to have a slave name?! I used to jokingly think this. Some of my students and friends acted as if they immigrated to the West upon being with me yet I was the one who left my native country to live in another so I felt that I should have been learning their names as they eagerly learned mine. At times, It felt impersonal because they knew my real name but I didn’t have a chance to know theirs unless they felt comfortable enough to tell me.

      Ironically, China and America are similar when it comes to assimilation to the dominate culture. “In China we..” and “this is the Chinese way” were common expressions I heard in China. The only people in China not saying that to me were the ethnic minorities. I hear similar comments in the US but not as often because I’m not a foreigner in the US.

  9. Louise or Lili Reply

    When I lived in Asia, the local people thought my “real” name was too long, and well, foreign. However, I took a Chinese name, and it truely did help me to fit into the culture. It also made me feel less “foreign”. On the other hand, I have an ESL student from China, who although living in The States, chooses not to take another name. Shouldn’t everyone be allowed to choose what name to be know by? This article was so biased. It was like one long rant based on an opinion rather than fact.

  10. Marie not Maria Reply

    My grandfather and father immigrated to America from Italy. They both “Americanized” their names. Therefore, the sweeping comment that no one other than the Chinese take “English” names is incorrect. Perhaps you should do a bit more research before making false assertions. As a former expat, I’m convinced I couldn’t have learned anything from you about living abroad. No need to write a lengthy version of your opinion.

  11. Benny Lin Reply

    Many South Koreans who study or work abroad also uses “Westernized” or “Christian” names, even though the trend is not as prevalent as Chinese ones.

    The root cause of the problem is the order of the East Asian names (family names first, personal name second and third), which non East-Asian largely fail to distinguish. The fact that each word of their names are monosyllabic also help little to distinguish between given names and family names, which are not the case in other (Middle East, Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa, and the rest of Asia)

    So, between the East Asian CJK countries, there are 3 different ways of addressing the name ordering issue when it is written in Latin. The Japanese would switch their last name and first name position, some of the Koreans would also switch the position, and join their first names with or without a dash, and some of the Koreans would adopt the Chinese approach, which is using “Latin” name in the front, and family name on the back, sometimes followed by their Chinese names after their family name, thus they don’t change the ordering of their real name.

  12. Joyelle Reply

    Some of these comments, ouch! But I also understand your points of view.

    I really don’t think the author meant any malice or intended to discredit or disrespect Chinese naming practices or culture. However, I do think she wanted to acknowledge discriminatory laws and practices, throughout American history, that may have influenced this social naming norm, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act.

    I truly think her point is similar to that of an article about Uzoamaka Aduba (she plays Crazy Eyes on Orange is the New Black) where her mother says:
    “…If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka.”

    And they/we can learn to (correctly) say Yang Xi (Yahng She? ) and Li Xiao Long (Lee Shaow Long?). Correct my phonetic/pinyin attempt, I’m trying and willing to learn. ???? Besides, I heard people say Yao Ming’s name all the time, when he played for Houston, so it’s definitely possible.

    Honestly, I think that if we learn to pronounce Chinese names, then those names become more active in the English vocabulary…And they should be, especially considering the positive impact Chinese people have & have had on the US.

    Having a French name I understand the desire to have & hear your name pronounced correctly. Choosing a name that is easier for you to hear and for others to pronounce does make life easier. My name is Joyelle, and Joy is pronounced like “joie” in “joie de vivre” + L so Joie+L…most Americans get it wrong, but they will ask how pronounce it. I tell them because I appreciate the interest, and helps them expand their verbal pallet / pronunciation abilities. But I also answer to Joy.

    Overall, I understand both sides of the argument and it is an individual choice. But America expands its vocabulary all the time, we use “Spanglish” a lot now , and “Habibi” is a very popular Arabic word. So, I don’t think learning to Chinese names too far out the realm of possibilities. It will, however take patience.

    1. Alison Sesi Reply

      To Joyelle: Thanks for your balanced comment. Of course, I think that Chinese names are easy enough to pronounce if you know how. As you mentioned words with the pinyin ‘X’, this is a sound that doesn’t exist in English, and does not entirely equate to ‘sh’. Whereas on the pronunciation of ‘sh’, the tongue is in a quite usual place in the mouth, to pronounce ‘X’ correctly , the tip of the tongue should be on the upper palate just behind the front teeth – while it is here you attempt to produce ‘sh’. So it’s almost like saying ‘tsh’…and ‘Xiao’ would be something like ‘Tschee-ow’. Most of the time, though, a foreign news reader saying Chinese names would need to be bothering with the correct tones, which is another story. In a foreign language news item, they could get away with it, which is more than you can say for me with my students numbering quite a bit over 1,000. It’s hard enough to get their ‘English’ names! I’m an older teacher…my memory is not so good!
      I’ll also take this opportunity to mention that in my past I was an anti-apartheid campaigner, the wife of an African with a mixed race daughter who’s now an adult…and I left the UK because of Brexit, which I’d voted against. I don’t need to prove my anti-neocolonialist / anti-racist credentials to the writer or to anyone else. I don’t see what I’m doing is a ‘micro-aggression’ towards my Chinese students because my motives (or theirs) have nothing to do with the attitudes she’s writing about…I’ll sign off as Qiongli (Tchee-ong Lee) (Chinese name) and Efua / Ekua Mama (Ghanaian names). See…I’ve no cause of white cultural superiority to wield…and rest my case!

  13. C.c Reply

    China has a very different and complicated culture surrounding names. Many people have multiple names. I myself have had 3 Chinese names before I had an English one. One that was on my hukou, one that my family called me, and another I used in school. For details see here https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_name
    For a foreigner who does not understand this culture it might seem like a negation of ones own heritage but I don’t think it’s experienced like that for Chinese.

  14. James Reply

    when I took French in middle school we all chose French names. When I took Chinese class in college we all got/chose Chinese names. Besides, I absolutely love my “potatoes and bluebuffs” when they choose these names for themselves on the first day of my English class. Sometimes I will have to change an inappropriate (intentional or unintentional) name that a student chooses. But can’t each of these students have a unique identity in their new name? We all laugh at my Chinese name while I try to find a new one that fits me better, and when my students feel their name doesn’t fit them anymore, they change it. There are also some who prefer to be called their Chinese names and I am fine with that…. it just seems like you took this wayyyyyy too far and read wayyyyy too deep into this “phenomenon” that I also experienced in America while learning foreign languages and always found it enjoyable….

  15. Xin Yang Reply

    Hello, I happen to be writing a paper on this theme and I would like to share some my opinions after all the research I have done.
    The English-naming practice of Chinese individuals is frequently interpreted as a result of westernization or even an act of treason/abandon of their Chinese identity. While this could be true in some extreme cases, the real situation and identity issues behind the phenomenon is much more complicated. English-speaking Chinese individuals are destined to undergo tremendous value changes in the establishment of their second language identity. Some Chinese students refuse to adapt themselves to a wrongly-pronounced name (e.g.“shiting” for “Shītíng” 诗婷, which in Chineseimplies a poetic and beautiful female figure ) forced on them and prefer to use an English name chosen by themselves which respects the criterions they believe and better reflects who they are. A carefully selected or even created English name can be recruited to perform Chinese ideological and semiotic functions thus a stronger exclamation of the second language identity, just as the use of the correspondent pinyin of a Chinese name in non-Chinese language contexts may actually be a passive acceptation of the western ideologies behind the English language. From my point of view, your call upon Chinese students to keep their Chinese names (using the pinyin of their Chinese names) are actually imposing your ideologies on how should behave a Chinese student in his/her second language. In the end it depends on what the student believe is right to do and the best choice is always the one which makes him/her more comfortable when speaking in English.:-)

    1. Alison Sesi Reply

      Thank you for your erudite and well-made points. I was talking to my daughter about this only yesterday and (even apart from the example you give, which, of course, is an unfortunate correlation between the Chinese and English languages), I told her that, in the ‘pinyinisation’ of a Chinese name, its original meaning is lost anyway…a point that I think has already been alluded to among the comments here. Of course, this doesn’t mean that Chinese people shouldn’t use these pinyin forms – my daughter says all her Chinese colleagues at work do (but, then again, she also has a Hong Kong friend who calls herself Florrie), but it may also be that they prefer to have an ‘English’ name that really conveys some meaning, which is maybe why I am sometimes asked to find one.
      I also told her a funny story that happened years ago when I was studying in China, but concerned some Japanese students and the name of an internationally known Japanese person, namely Yoko Ono. We (a group of students from my university) were talking about her using the received pronunciation always used by her and for her in our culture, but received blank looks from the Japanese. We then explained that we were talking about John Lennon’s wife…to which they replied, ‘Ah…ONNO YOKKO’…in terms of the way it was pronounced, and of course with oriental name order. So, we can see that original names can, in any case, be ‘anglicized’ to the point that they can no longer be recognized by mother tongue speakers!

  16. Alisa Reply

    This article really bothers me. Why does a non chinese think she knows better than chinese people and needs to school them on what name they should use. As if they’re not being chinese enough or dont love their name enough and they need her reassurance to use their name. I think chinese people are quite intelligent and aware enough to decide what name they want to use when and where and others should respect that. Not try to force them to do what we think is better.

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