Hello Uncle Foreigner

Jul 6, 2018

English names for Chinese kids

And naming myself in Chinese

The way this video came together … well, originally I had intended it to be a short. Peter was encouraging me to film my thoughts on my way to and from work with my cellphone, straight-up vlogger style. So one day on my way home for lunch, I filmed the first piece (which I think appears third above; it’s the bit with the gray T-shirt, about the process of giving out names to my students). But this led to more and more thoughts, so I kept adding pieces. It turns out, I have a lot of thoughts about names.

It can be a fraught topic. I have had students decline to take an English name; for whatever reason, they don’t want one. Which I can understand. As a kid, I didn’t like it when people made nicknames out of my given name — everyone has a preference of how they’d like to be addressed, and I try to respect that. It’s much easier now that I have a little more Chinese, but also that my class sizes are no longer 60+ kids. If one out of eight wants to be called by their Chinese name, I can make that happen. It does take me longer to commit their name to memory, but I get there.

Another theme, that only briefly touched on in the video, is that the English name is far from permanent. Our friend Patrick has gone through a few different names in the time we’ve known him as his relationship with English has grown and changed from a high school student tucked away in Luzhou to a citizen of the world who interacts regularly with people from other countries and cultures. I think he’s living in Mexico these days. We also know a couple of students who’ve grown up and chosen to be exclusively called by their Chinese name. For example, I don’t think Curly answers to that name anymore. But that’s all part of the fun of trying out a new identity.