New IDs, from the truly ex­otic to the plain bizarre

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By CHRIS PETER­SON in Lon­don chris@mail.chi­nadai­lyuk.com

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.

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