May 27, 2008

#01-114: What's in a Name - Part II

a pensive-looking older man with short, messy hair and glasses, wearing a tie with a microphone clipped to it
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Gates. My name is Fat Cat."

Note: Some celebrities choose outrageous names to get attention. Politicians seem to go more for respect. Let's look at the effect of silly names.

Get Ready: Do you expect other people to accommodate difficulties in communication, or do you try to "meet them halfway"?

Last time, I wrote about the reasons for choosing an "English name" when doing business. I mentioned that having an English name would smooth relationships with foreigners. Of course, an "English name" doesn't have to be English. In fact, many Americans' names are French, Spanish, German and so on. So we should really be talking about non-Chinese names, not "English names" per se.

I'd like to say a little more about it today.

In my teaching, I noticed that, usually, the lower a student's English skill, the less likely he was to have a good solid English name. Likewise, the better his skill, the more "normal" the name was.

Sometimes, in order to make their names memorable, people choosing names make a different mistake. "Memorable" is only the first criterion. The second is that your name should gain you some respect.

Many of my friends and students have chosen names which are just--well--silly. In fact, I have had students named Silly! And Sili. And Lazy. And Little. And Dreamy. And Many. These are not names; these are adjectives!

Likewise, many chose nouns, such as Ship, Ripple, and Smile. Sometimes there was a noun and an adjective: Fat Cat, Air Flare, and Big Boy.

The problem with these names is that people hearing them will want to laugh. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Gates. My name is Fat Cat." Ridiculous!

Other names that might make people laugh included numbers (Seven, Zero), weather phenomena (Ice, Rainbow, Winter), and animals (Dragon, Fox, Pig Pig). These are all very unusual; there was a TV character named "Fox," but that was the only time I heard it as a name.

Then there are the odd variations of common names. I once met a new student (an adult) and the conversation went like this:

"Hi, I'm James."

"I'm Donal."

"Nice to meet you, Donald."

"Not Donald. DONAL! DONAL!"

Now I felt awkward and a little stupid. When you first meet a new friend or customer, you want to make her or him feel comfortable, not awkward. The first time you meet Bill Gates, you don't want to scold him about your name!

(Incidentally, "Donal" is a genuine Scottish name, but it's very unusual. In one list of the popularity of names, "Donald" is #1244; Donal is #26,006!)

So I recommend that you go with a "normal" name. Many Chinese friends have said, "I want something different." I understand. But often the attempt to be "different" leads to unwanted results.

Here's a tip: Find a list of names, online or in a book. Choose a name. Then check it with a foreign friend. Because even in those lists, there are many old-fashioned, outdated names (like Agnes and Thelma). It's best to have a current, "normal" name that people can hear, remember, spell, and say easily.


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. awkward
  2. gain
  3. genuine
  4. incidentally
  5. likewise
  6. memorable
  7. outdated
  8. phenomena
  9. popularity
  10. ridiculous

  1. foolish; laughable
  2. uncomfortable
  3. easy to remember
  4. earn; get
  5. by the way
  6. some things that occur
  7. old-fashioned
  8. amount something is used; approval
  9. in the same way
  10. authentic; not fake or made up

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for May 27, 2008

Please leave a comment - I can't WAIT to hear from you!