May 26, 2008

#01-113: What's in a Name - Part I

a McDonald's worker in a brown uniform stands in front of a beverage serving area with her back to the camera
A McDonald's worker wearing the prescribed uniform

Note: One little-discussed aspect of cross-cultural relations is the choice and use of names that put people at ease. Let's take a closer look.

Get Ready: Do people find your name easy to use? Is that important in how they treat you, especially the first time you meet?

Recently, a reader wrote saying he had found a job in a company, and his new company was requiring him to use an English name. (I presume that he is dealing with foreigners in his work.) He said that he objected to this, and then asked: "Why does a Chinese need to have an English name for work?"

It's an excellent question. Our names are of great importance to us, establishing our identities, our faces to the world.

Shakespeare asks, "What's in a name?" and then answers his own question: "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." With respect to the Bard, I have to disagree. We associate a thing with its name.

A presidential candidate named "Hitler" would have little chance of winning an election in America, no matter how good a man he is. But a name like "Lincoln" or "Washington" might be a great help.

Since names can work for us or against us, there may be times when we have to let go of the name our parents gave us. So I think this reader should use an English name, then, for a few reasons.

First, he's not actually changing his name. He's just acquiring a "nickname" for use at work. In addition to our "real" names, many of us have nicknames that change in different situations. Since coming to Shenzhen, I have been called "The Temple Guy," "The Laughing Buddha," and these days "Shenzhen Buzz" or "Mr. Shenzhen." Through all of these changes, I've still kept the name of James.

Next, remember that this is a work requirement. People who work at McDonalds don't have to wear the uniform; they only have to wear it if they want to keep their jobs!

The final reason is a little more complex. If this reader is dealing with foreign customers, he may find that they can't catch his Chinese name. This is serious. If a customer can't remember your name, or if he's shy about saying it, this could affect your relationship and, ultimately, your sales.

If I say to a Chinese person I've just met, "Hi, my name is Aloysius McGillicuddy," he will probably say, "Hi, uh..."

But if I say, "Hi, my name is Aloysius McGillicuddy. Please call me Al," he will feel much more comfortable. My nickname is easy to remember and say.

Sometimes in cross-cultural situations, we need to "meet the other person halfway." In business, we may have to go "all the way," making things easy for the customer so we can make that sale.

To the reader: If you are proud of your name, and want to use it, you might ask your boss if you can say: "Hi, my name is Wu Fu Qing; please call me Frank." The best of both worlds!


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. acquiring
  2. associate (with)
  3. complex
  4. meet halfway
  5. presidential
  6. requirement
  7. the Bard
  8. ultimately
  9. uniform
  10. with respect to

  1. running for the highest office in a country like America
  2. complicated; not simple
  3. be connected (to)
  4. compromise
  5. regarding; in relation to
  6. getting; receiving
  7. matching clothes worn by members of a team, company, etc.
  8. finally; in the end
  9. something someone must do
  10. a nickname for Shakespeare

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for May 26, 2008

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. f; 2. c; 3. b; 4. d; 5. a; 6. i; 7. j; 8. h; 9. g; 10. e