“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
When last month I got the paycheck from Asia Knowledge – the school where I teach Chinese language to Israeli students, a little surprise was waiting for me: the section “Pay to” stated my name as Crystal Tao. Of course, this is the way that I present myself to foreigners but one can easily guess that Crystal is not the name given to me by parents. My Chinese name is Jiaqi (嘉琪).
Without thinking too much I took the pen with ink color similar to the one used on the cheque, surrounded “Crystal” with brackets and added my Chinese name in front of it. I was very pleased with the result since now it looked as some writer’s pen-name. And luckily there were no problems with cashing in the cheque.
It seems that the administration of Asia Knowledge was confused that I always sign my mails as Crystal Tao and thought that it is my real one, or maybe they are following this blog . I always assumed that foreigners communicating with Chinese people know that many of them choose a foreign (mostly, English sounding) name.
To check it, I went through some profiles of Chinese girls in one dating site and counted the proportion of girls having English names. Surprisingly, it was quite high through the broad age group from 20 to 50 years old: almost half of site members had a foreign name appearing in their profiles (somewhere between 40% and 50%). Even for Chinese women older than 50 y.o. the proportion was as high as 20-25%.
The most often used names were Mary, Cherry and Jane. I also noticed that Chinese women like to take the names of some flowers or other presumably beautiful things. The result can be a usual and widespread name – like Rose or Daisy or less conventional but still pleasant to ear Sunflower. However, the most unexpected flower name that I encountered was Geranium… I closed my eyes and tried to imagine to myself how a man would pronounce – “I love you, Geranium!”
Intercultural dating is not the main reason for having an English name. As a matter of fact, some Chinese companies with a large database of foreign customers ask all of their employees to choose an English name. I think, however, that in most cases it is redundant and doesn’t bring any additional value. Let me quote the excerpt from one personal blog I recently stumbled upon:
Our “national” guide, Ming, met us at the Beijing airport when we landed. <…> Thirty-one years old, tall, very slim, cute, Chinese.
“My name is Ming,” she told us once she’d corralled us through the arrival gate, “but you can call me Kate.” Apparently the tour company had given all of their guides “Western” names to make it easier for their charges.
Which struck me as really funny; are there a lot of Americans who can’t pronounce “Ming”?
“I’m sorry, Monp? Mirg? Say it one more time, slower. Okay… Mmmmelg? Fuck this, I’m calling you Kate.”
I am quite curious why people often like the sound of foreign language. Maybe it just feels more romantic or makes it easier to create certain associations which would be harder in their own language? Or take, for example, the opposite trend when Westerners ink Chinese tattoos on their bodies? Do they feel that Chinese characters are more meaningful, mysterious or nice?
Let’s conclude this topic with an entertaining video from the series “Sexy Beijing” produced by witty Anna Sophie Lowenberg (who wisely changed her “unpronounceable” name with simple Su Fei):
Jiaqi (Crystal) Tao