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Why I gave up my English name

2018-02-23 21:40     娱乐     来自:环球时报GlobalTimes

Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT

I gave myself an English name right after I entered university. It was the first assignment from my English instructor from the US. I spent an hour in the library flipping through an English name dictionary until I found an English name that sounded like my Chinese first name.

A year later, I took a class from another well-educated American lecturer. When he called the roll, his mouth suddenly twisted into a grimace: "Ruh…Ree...Rek…" I came to his rescue and said my English name. He apologized, explaining that he had never met anyone with that name. I told him I thought my English name was ubiquitous because I found it in a dictionary of common English names! We had a good laugh about the snafu.

Later, I studied abroad as an exchange student. During the orientation week, I met many international students from other countries. To my surprise, all of them used their original names. Some with long names offered a shortened version of their first names or their initials as an alternative, but none of them went as far as I did. It seems that only the Chinese students on campus assumed that it was better to use an English name in cross-cultural communication.

I couldn't help but wonder what would happen if I forwent my English name. By the time I studied abroad again as a graduate student, I switched back to my Chinese name. People started calling me "Ren-zy" or "Ren-sy." I went along with the jarring mutation because I still wanted to look agreeable and thoughtful, but I'm quite sure that if I call someone named a Jack "Jieke" or a Jennifer "Zhennifu," I'd appear less culturally adept than I really am to Jack and Jennifer.     

In a communication skills workshop, I told my supervisor that I wished to hear people pronounce my name in Chinese. She immediately invited me to teach everyone in the room how to say "Rensi" in Chinese. It was heartwarming to hear a bunch of English speakers learn to call me by my Chinese name. 

Now, my close friends know how to pronounce my name in Chinese, and I also like asking people whose first language is not English how to say their names in their mother tongues. They are often flattered and happy to teach me. Such conversations easily grow into a wonderful bonding moment. Theodore Roosevelt said, "Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care." Saying people's names properly is an irresistible sign of caring.

After I gave up my English name, I also observed that the international media seemed to get a little better at pronouncing Chinese names. Many news anchors still haven't mastered the tones in pinyin, but their pronunciation of the consonants and vowels is getting closer to that of native Chinese speakers.

Perhaps Chinese people's long-term preference for English names in global communication is not only a gesture of thoughtfulness but a sign of diffidence. Some Chinese people worry about the potential eye-rolling they would encounter if they articulate their Chinese names, yet the reality is, it might take a few more seconds to introduce international friends to some pinyin syllables, but many people are curious about learning new ways to use their tongues.  

This article was published on the Global Times Metropolitan section Two Cents page, a space for reader submissions, including opinion, humor and satire. The ideas expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent the position of the Global Times.