English Names

Note: I wrote this in 2012. Maybe it’s kind of amusing?

For some reason, everybody around here seems to think that adding English characters, no matter how broken or meaningless, confers an added sense of quality or superiority. I don’t really understand the mindset here but it’s the only explanation I can come up with. It’s certainly not to make the lives of our English-speaking population any easier.

We were sharing songs in Chinese class with literary techniques, and there were a bunch of songs, including mine, by this pretty famous singer with the stage name Fish Leong. Okay, it’s kind of cute and it’s a translated homophonic Cantonese pun, so it makes some sense, although I wonder what people would think the name meant if mentioned without any context. There was this more obscure guy a couple seasons back in the reality TV singing competition (see, no original shows around here) whose name was Quack. smacks head It’s also kind of cute if you only know that the word is the sound a duck makes, which probably holds for most of the audience. But still, it takes just five seconds to put it into Wikipedia. Oops?

This dual-language naming of everything certainly doesn’t make it easier to survive without understanding Chinese in this country. Our public transportation has tolerable translations and announcements, we have road signs and landmark names that are okay, but there is no hope if you want to refer to current events within the nation involving any person. We have English newspapers (“Taipei Times”) who look up all the English names of the political people and celebrities and use them in the headlines, but then always type the Chinese translations next to them in the body anyway. The reason is obvious: nobody actually knows the English names except right after looking them up for the explicit purpose of trying to compose a fully English article. And Chinese last names, although relatively susceptible to being reverse-engineered, are hopelessly generic. So having an English name actually makes it harder for people to refer to you in Taiwan, since everybody else gets pseudo-pinyin names that people can compare and produce reasonably consistently. My mom is always asking me about how the names of my classmates match up between the two languages, and I don’t blame her at all. (Another reason Jeremy Lin is special! Hooray!)

And this isn’t confined to our little island (must stay politically correct). Just one example, and the only text I have from the mainland anyway: the huge set of olympiad books dubbed “little blue” all boast on their cover, in a faint decorative background-white, the text “Shuxue Aolinpike”. If you haven’t realized yet, that’s what you get from transliterating “Olympic” to Chinese and back with pinyin. And apparently somebody thinks it’s still English enough to confer coolness points.

People, if you think English is cool to have on your book cover or name card, at least take the ten seconds needed to look the dratted word up. Please.

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