One of my great challenges here will be to remember the names of all 100 students. It was tough enough in Slovakia, where my spring class hit 30. If I’d forget one, my fallback option were the most popular names: “Hmmm. Martina? Lenka? Katarina?”
In Hong Kong, the task is even more difficult.
Chinese names are difficult to pronounce, even when transliterated from the original Chinese characters. I learned this the hard – and humiliating – way in January, in Prague, while handing out certificates to the Hong Kong Baptist University students who attended the TOL foreign-correspondence training course, which I helped lead.
Transliteration doesn’t quite capture the Chinese tones. So as I read out each name, the crowd roared at my mangled pronunciation. This I endured for a mere 35 names.
To simplify things, the Chinese who interact with foreigners typically choose a more international name, for those special occasions. So a “Jiangjie” becomes “Lulu.”
This allows from some creativity: women reinventing themselves as Coral, Icy or Evening. Occasionally, it leads to chicanery. One HKBU colleague tells me a female student last year asked to be called “Ice Cream.” Then she noticed another colleague refer to that same student as “Chocolate.” The ruse was exposed!
Since most students are from the mainland, with this their first time meeting Western faculty, several are trying out new names, to see how they fit.
At a teacher-student dinner earlier this week, on my right a young man introduced himself as “Rex.” He’d originally chosen the name “Lex,” until an American woman told him “Rex” was cooler. I agreed, and told him to Google the Latin definition.
On my left was “Emily” – a popular choice. In America, too, as it ranks No. 1. (It’s also the name of my darling niece.)
Two days later, Emily came to our first class. Her name placard puzzled me: “Psyche.” I thought you were Emily, I asked. With another Emily in class, she wanted something unique. Next class, though, I may have to tell Psyche how uncomfortably close her new name is to a certain Alfred Hitchcock film …
(Sept. 7 note: I see the student has now reverted to the original, but Frenchified it — Amelie. Excellent choice.)