On the first meeting of all my classes I asked the students to pick an English name. Some already had English names and some didn’t. For those who didn’t I asked them to think about it and tell me at our second meeting. I also brought a list of names for them to pick from.
As I had asked and not ordered them to do this I was not surprised that many students declined to pick an English name. The natural consequences of this, I told them, were that they would get to hear me pronounce their Chinese name badly all semester. They could cry “uncle” at any time and pick an English name.
Many of my students’ choices have been quite humorous. Have a look:
Cultural References: Prizes if you recognizes them all
Harry Potter: I have several Harrys, a Hermione and a Ron or two.
Big Bang Theory: Quite popular here. I have two Leonards.
Twilight: Bella and Edward. No Jacobs.
Other: Aragorn, Ponyo, Ringo, Sonic, Neo, and Nikita
Fruit: I have Apple, several Bananas, Cherry, Orange, and Strawberry. A veritable fruit basket.
Sports: I don’t think I recognize all the ones which are sports references, but I have a Dwight, a Kobe or two, Michael, and Iker.
Nature features prominently in my students’ choices. First up is the sun. I have Sun, Sunny, and Sunshine. More than one of each. Then I have Rainy, Rainbow, Sky (2), Icy, Sea, and Wind. For seasons I have everything but winter. There’s also Tree, Hill, and Snowball.
Those are all perfectly acceptable names. Now we get into the stranger categories.
Girls with Boys’ Names: Lucas, Tom, Silas, Ackerman, Garmier. How do you break this to them?
Boys with Girls’ Names: Only a few, some are arguable. Tracy, Stacy, and Aime. That last one changed his name quite quickly.
Prigs and Wigs: Names with a strong past century feel. Eunice, Muriel, and Eudora. Vern, Vernon, and Winton.
Stripper Names: Katty, Candy, Caire, Karry, Kimie, and Karmen. What’s with the “k’s”?
Holy Names: St. Lucas. Saint.
Young-at-Heart: Kid, Child, Children. More than one of some of these.
I have the Angel continuum: Angel, Angela, Angelia, Angelina, Angeling. Ok, sure.
Next I have the non-English names or non-standard pronunciation. These kids drive me nuts. I tell them, “You know, this really isn’t an English name.” or “That’s now how any self-respecting English speaker would say it.” No dice. They’re sticking with them. This includes: Juary (j-WAH-ri), Selene (sel-UH-neen), Guroy (GOO-Roy), Cynes (SAI-nus), Avent-not Advent, Jelf-not Jeff, Fenlix-not Felix, and Enmin-not Eminem.
Then I have the slightly unusual choices (Funny, I actually have a student called ‘Choice’): Italian, Hello Bean, Money, Abjection, King Kong, Tesla, Unbelievable, Soyabean, Ant, Lionheart, Levis, Rainco, Killer, Hurry, Natural, Lazy, and Camping. I also have iPod, iPad, iPhone.
Last I have the slightly demeaning, bad connotation, and downright unacceptable names (in that order) of Dweeb, Fanny, and Hitler. I made the decision to let Dweeb go. Fanny never returned to my class and Hitler I refuse to call him by that name.
Our students’ English names are a rich topic of conversation among the teachers. Everyone has good stories about their students. We vie for “worst name” and “strangest name” categories. We discuss whether or not we should make them change some of their names. Most of us assume that as long as they aren’t English majors planning to interact with foreigners anything except the most unacceptable name is fine. Bobo, Snowball, Tree, Hill and Camping are unfortunately all English majors. They have been being pressured to change. So far only Tree has made a change. We decided on the name Trelia, which sounds good even if it isn’t an English name to my knowledge.
A last name-related story: One of my student’s has the name Kira. Kira is the name of my dear friend Rebekah’s dog. I almost blurted out, “Kira? That’s my friend’s dog’s name!” I caught myself. Just.