New IDs, from the truly exotic to the plain bizarre
To a Westerner the English name a Chinese person uses for himself or herself can often trigger a smile or a puzzled look.
Top ofmy list, when I worked as a correspondent in Hong Kong, was the man who would come regularly to maintain our facsimile machines.
He rejoiced in the name of Faxman Wong. I have his business card to this day.
When I first arrived, I couldn’t work out why two of my Chinese co-workers had distinctly old-fashioned, religious-sounding names, Joshua and Fidelia. That little mystery was cleared up when I discovered they were graduates of Hong Kong Baptist College where, in common with other students, they were assigned English names for their language lessons.
Then there were the truly exotic. I will never forget the vivacious sales assistant in the office at the time, who rejoiced in the name of Cinderella Mak. I never did summon up the courage to ask her how she chose that name.
In all the years I have worked with or been involved with China, I have come across people named Pony, Winnie, Bruce (go on, guess who he was named after) and a crop of Benjamins and even one guy calling himself Alien.
I suffered too, though not in China. When I first arrived in Saigon in 1972 as a very green war correspondent for Reuters, the wonderful office manager, Pham Ngoc Dinh, had trouble getting his tongue round my first name.
He tried several times, each time ending up with a sound half way between a snort and a clearing of the throat. He eventually settled on Christ, until a more worldly Vietnamese colleague told him that to Christians it may come across as blasphemous.
With a typical flash of Vietnamese humor he ended up calling me BK, for Beaucoup Kilo, a French reference tomy burly frame.
He tried several times, each time ending up with a sound half way between a snort and a clearing of the throat.