Behind a (English) name

Response to “Behind a name”:

“One’s name is one of the most salient features for one’s identity. Some parents suffer from extraordinary indecisiveness when giving their newborn a wonderfully auspicious and proper name, all with utmost good intentions and expectations. English language learners often have the same experience later in life: how did you get your English name, especially if your mother tongue is not an alphabetic language?”

This is something that I’ve always been aware of as a prospective ESL teacher. It’s fascinating when I’ll ask how to pronounce a student’s name, especially when it’s phonetically translated from a language I’m unfamiliar with, and they tell me to just call them Kevin.

I realized that even in immigrating to America from Taiwan, if I had kept to my translated Chinese name (Ku Kuo-Han), I would still only be recognized as Kuo, a third of what I would be in Chinese. For example, in Chinese, we call George Washington by his last name, Washington or Hua Shun-Dun. Now if Hua Shun-Dun were to immigrate to America, Hua would turn into his last name and we would probably call him Shun or maybe Shawn, out of convenience.

I’ve been learning American Sign Language and deaf people have sign names that are given to them based on personality and character traits. It’s a big part of their identity and who they are. I don’t see how names in other languages are any different.


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