Janet is not even my real name.
I adopted this English name when I was 20 years old. My first English teacher at a university in Taiwan was a plump American lady. In out first lesson, she insisted that all her Chinese students should have an English name.
Having an English name is trendy to many foreign learners. Young Chinese people particularly like to be called John or Mary when they learn English. Having an English name does not mean that we kowtow to the western culture, as some conservative Chinese people worry that abandoning our original name equals to a loss of our identity. I don’t think so. Having a foreign name is just fun. The silliness is part of the experience of learning English as a foreign language.
Adopting an English name
I told my American teacher that I did not need an English name, as my name on the passport was in Latin alphabet letters, so it was my English name. She replied that my name given by my parents was too difficult to pronounce, and to an American, my name did not sound English. My English name on my documents throughout my life was a transliteration of my Chinese name. My teacher explained that she wanted a common English sounding name such as Lucy and Mary.
I was a bit annoyed that I had to create a new English name. I did not protest. No one protested. I did not see it as an invasion of my culture. I did not perceive name-changing as an ‘arrogant western culture encroaching on the 5,000 years of glorious Chinese civilisation’. I did not see it as ‘yet another fine example of American Imperialism and its brianwashing mechanism on the Chinese.’ I just thought my American teacher was stupid. She could not even pronounce my name. She did not bother to try. Most of my classmates already had their fancy English names. That evening, a lovely exchange student from Holland came to my rescue. She picked the name Janet for me, as I reminded her of her best friend Janet.
Since then, I am stuck with the name Janet.
Being a Cloud
Currently, I have four names, which I use in different settings. My family still call me my original Chinese name, meaning Jade Cloud. Why Cloud? I bet my four sisters had taken all nice names, starting with our first name Jade, followed by Glory, Beauty, Grace and Wisdom. I’m the fifth daughter and I was given Cloud. Someone has to be a Cloud.
Cloud is actually poetic and elegant. I love it. My name Cloud 雲 is formed with two compound ideographs, rain 雨 and cloud 云.
You will not be surprised that I love the poem, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud (or known as Daffodils) by William Wordsworth:
“I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o’er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd
A host of dancing Daffodils;
Along the Lake, beneath the trees,
Ten thousand dancing in the breeze.”
Are you defined by your name? How does your name reflect you personality? Traditionally, some Chinese parents gave their children very humble names, such as “Cat, Dog, Pig, Ox, Donkey and Monkey”.
Names of low status
In the old agricultural society, when disease, disaster, and death were common, human life was at the disposal of the elements, or the unknown Heaven. Parents wanted to protect their children from misfortune. Animals are rough and tough and they have the fighting spirit to survive adversities. Animals are not picky eater; they eat the leftover food. Chinese people believed that if the kids were called Cat, Dog, Pig, Ox, Donkey and Monkey, they would overcome hardship.
Actually, using these humble names is a ploy. Parents deceive ghosts and evil spirits, who cause disease, disaster, and death. A child with a humble name can escape the attention of the evil spirit, and Yama, God of Death, will ignore this child by not taking away his spirit.
I remember when I was growing up, I, as a Cloud, played with some Dog, Cow, and Pig in my neighbourhood. A few years ago, I tried to do an oral history from my mother, and most of the male members in her stories carried animal names, and my mother does not know their real names. It was a hard job for me not to confuse cousin Dog with cousin Pig.
In my post, Born as an outsider, I wrote about how awkward I was as a left-hander. Throughout my life, I’ve learnt to adjust myself in new situations, to avoid touching people’s elbows or getting into people’s ways. My name Cloud was frozen in a particular time of my life. My adjustment never ends. Acquiring new names means subtly adapting to new values or identities that each new name carries. New names also open up new opportunities. Life is a journey of constant adjustments, which brings both joy and discomfort.
This post was inspired by Blog Exercises:
What’s the View Through Your Binoculars by Lorelle VanFossen. You can find more Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress. This is a year-long challenge to help you flex your blogging muscles.
My Related Posts:
- Why are we all called Jade?
- Visiting a Columbarium in Singapore
- What’s a Brother Coming?
- Weekly Writing Challenge: My Mum’s Net
- 5 changes of a Chinese wife in England: on Language
- 5 changes of a Chinese wife in England: on Culture
- 5 changes of a Chinese wife in England: on Food
- Hearing my voice from my quotes
- Not a narcissistic outsider
- Born as an outsider