What’s In a Name

Hong Kong Chinese have names that are difficult for the average Westerner to pronounce – lots of vowel-less sounds like ‘ng’ and ‘tz’ which cause enough problems, before you get on to hitting the correct tone (any one of six rising or falling or rising then falling intonations…)

So, someone hit upon the brilliant idea of adopting an English name to make it easier for us all. I’ve done no research whatsoever into why or how this came about, but I suppose it’s to do with the colonial period. Maybe we forced them to adopt an English name and threatened them with the lash if they refused? I have asked one actual Chinese person about when they got their English name, and he tells me that normally your first primary school teacher gives you one. But, what with it being unofficial and all, you are free to change it whenever you want.

Usually you would try to choose an English name that sounds phonetically similar to your Chinese name – so Wong Man Tin might choose ‘Martin’ (*note* ‘Wong Man Tin’ may not be an actual Chinese name – it sounds good though).

But, if you have the whole field of English nomenclature to play about in, why not go a little wackier…

Since coming to Hong Kong I have met guys called: Benson, Bass, Ernest, Cliff, Edmund, Silver, Samson (yet no Delilah), Kaiser, Anson, Prince and the truly unbeatable… Garfield.

Girls seem to choose one of two types of name: incredibly old fashioned ones: Marjorie, Agatha, Queenie, Winsome, Eveline, Clover (and her friend Daisy) OR just plain nonsensical ones: Bobo, Yoyo, Lala…

A quick Google search throws up even better ones (Mercy, Never, Lolita, Golden and, although I struggle to believe it, Hitler…) but, alas, I’ve not met them yet. I’m making it my quest to find these people and have a picture taken with them. Long may Hong Kongers continue to choose bizarre English names.

However, I must end on a more saddening note. Despite having a choice of literally ANY existing English name (and a few that don’t exist yet) I have been served, in a shop, by a Chinese man named… Keith.


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