Saturday, January 7, 2012

Fun and Names

It's crucial to put oneself "out there," as an expatriate living in China. This three year assignment can go one of two ways - We can live day to day lives, recoil and avoid the newness of these experiences or we can embrace it ALL and put ourselves "out there." Our personal goal is to force that needle to the right of the "out there" gauge.  We find ourselves saying "Yes!" to outings and invitations far more often than we would have previously. We try new activities and meet new people ALOT. Keeping everyone's names straight has been a wee bit of a challenge since many Chinese nationals have a family name and an English name. Weekly, we meet new expatriates from all over the world. I use the tried and true tactic of repeating an introduction out loud to try and burn it into my brain...sometimes it works. Either way I've always found names fascinating.

As a young girl I wanted my name to be "Mary."   Three doors down on Vassar Street lived Mary, a young, white-capped and bright-white-stockinged nurse who would pull into her parents' driveway each day at 4pm, exit her FORD and float up the stoop. Her halo of importance kind of sealed it for me. When we played 'pretend,' I always chose to be "Mary."

In elementary school the upper grades had an half-hour weekly French lesson. An army of TV carts rumbled down the hallway guided by each classroom's audio-visual captain of the month and crash-banged through the doors of each 4th, 5th and 6th grade classroom. Voila! - Monsieur Essayan appeared for a thirty minute broadcast from the local Detroit public television station. In black and white splendor he regaled us with some very basic phrases and asked us to repeat them, pretending he could hear our responses. He always feigned that we were really doing well, which made me giggle at the ridiculousness. Monsieur Essayan visited our 5th grade classroom one fine day in his shiny silver/gray suit and skinny black tie. His fancy schmancy dress outweighed his balding head in my pre-teen eyes and we were all pretty excited to see that he really was a 3-Dimensional person after all. By this point we each had our own French name and mine was "Simone." Because of his celebrity status and the fact that he read my freshly fashioned name plate & said "Bonjour, Simone!"...well that memory and my French name have stuck - solid.

I flat out LOVE to hear the significance of why a person was given their name - either real or imagined. I'm intrigued with the provenance and story line. Most people can tell you a story about their name, albeit a given name, nickname or like that above, a "pretend" one.

Not everyone loves their name. Legally changing a name in the USA is doable and acceptable - for a fee.  The Big Guy tells me that in India, one can change their name whenever the mood strikes.  On Monday morning, they announce their new name to their coworkers and life goes on.  Anyone who has changed their name always has good solid reasons for doing so and surely a story to go along with it.

Upon arriving in China the Big Guy was informed that it would be necessary for him to have a Chinese name in order to have printed business cards. One side should be in Chinese and the other should be in English. Such a sensible approach to working in the Asia Pacific region.

But, how to begin?

Our friend Angie's native-speaking Chinese mother, a Michigander, and the Big Guy's Nanjing co-worker Julia, were willing to give their expert opinion.

The contemporary trend is to "echo" the sound of one's American name so it sounds similar, relayed Angie's Mom. For example, Matthew Brown might be Ma Chu Wuan; sounding pretty close to the English version. Sensible approach, indeed.

Julia preferred a more traditional approach to name selection. She thought it more significant to fashion a name with an underlying meaning, which of course had it's own appeal - especially to me, the storyteller.

So.....since Julia sits one arms length away from the Big Guy and Angie's Mom lives 7137 miles away, he bowed to his co-worker's judgement and went the old-fashioned traditional route. (With no lack of respect to Mrs. Hsu, by the way.)

The Chinese "noodling" commenced as Julia came up with some choices that required a vote by the Big Guy's FORD work section. It was quickly apparent that this is a Big Serious Deal. No "eeny-meeny-miney-mo" selection would do this task it's rightful justice.

Here are the choices with the number of votes indicated:

高智和 Gao (1) Zhi (4) He(2) 智慧,和睦 Tall, wise and harmonious -  2
高鹤轩 Gao (1) He (4) Xuan (1) Tall, Crane, Broad and wide ranging - 5
怀逸Gao (1) Huai (2) Yi (1) 取自李白千古名句:俱怀逸兴壮思飞,欲上青天揽明月 Tall, embrace leisure - 0

高志远Gao (1)Zhi (4)Yuan(3) 出自诸葛亮的《诫子书》“非淡泊无以明志,非宁静无以Tall, Ideal, Far -1                 

高贤博Gao (1) Xian(2) Bo(2) 出自仲春相约石桥村,弄墨高贤博古今Tall, virtuous and blessed - 4

高俊谦 Gao (1) Jun (4) Qian (1) Tall, Handsome, Modest - 1

With the votes tallied the Big Guy became:

Gāo Hé Xuān
Tall, Crane, Broad and wide ranging

"Gāo"  [ for short :-) ] 

A few months later in one of our Xian tourist stops we entered the stall of a pen and ink artist. His artistic brush strokes penned effortlessly across parchment with stunning results.

"Do you have any sketches of cranes?" I asked. 

With one chosen, the artist's English speaking assistant inquired if we would like our names placed alongside the artist's signature.

The Big Guy proudly whipped out his business card and showed them that he had a Chinese name and would that be okay?  Impressed with the card, and the name that included the reference to the revered crane, the artist's assistant said she could give me a Chinese name, too.

"No thanks," I replied.

"No problem, I give you name," she helpfully insisted.

The Big Guy looked at me, shrugged and said, "Go ahead, if you want."

"No, I want Julia to choose it!" I whined back.

After all, I felt that Julia knew me and would choose something significant and why should HE get all the attention, right?

So upon returning home we asked Julia to put her naming skills and guidance to work.
She asked me if I wanted one of the Big Guy's names to appear within my name and what I wanted to portray with it. I gave her a couple mini-wishes and she set about to find me a Chinese name.

About 3 weeks later she emerged (I'm calling to mind the puff of smoke rising from the Vatican once a new Pope is chosen) with my Chinese name.

She said it came to her in a dream and that sounded romantic enough to seal it pretty much right there.  (Sometimes I'm just WAY too girlie.)

< Be grateful that she didn't name me after one of my dreams.  I could possibly be named Wrinkled Woman of Song who Spitteth Out All Her Teeth - which I'm guessing you agree doesn't sound very Asian. >

And now for the "reveal."

My Chinese name is:

Sū Yǒng Lín

Sū - for the Jiangsu province that we live in.

Yǒng - for song - as in a carol

Lín - the nurturing rain in the forest

Thank-you, Julia!   Wo hen xihuan - "I like very much."

Along with putting ourselves "out there" socially, we now have Chinese names to banter about and portray that we sort of fit in somehow among the millions of people way over here in China. It doesn't take a craned neck or a trained eye to see that we -Gao He Xuan and Su Yong Lin - are much more Wonder Bread than dim sun...but heck...we're making a grand effort and having a BLAST in the process.

I may refer to myself as Cricket, Mary, Simone, Mrs. Johnson, Su Yong Lin or just plain old Carol. And yes, there is a story behind each one of those names. However you refer to me, let it be known that the Big Guy and I are doing our utmost to push that needle to the "out there" side of the gauge.  We approach new experiences, learn new things about the Asian culture, meet new people and learn their names one by one, everyday. 

Gāo Hé Xuān is working hard to make a difference in the FORD Asia Pacific market. And yes, we undoubtedly feel it's a privilege to call this city named Nanjing our HOME.

Happy New Year - 2012

Thanks for Reading,


FACT: Nanjing was once the capitol of China and at that time it was called Nanking. The prefix "nan" refers to the South, as opposed to "bei" which means North - as in the current capitol city of Beijing.


Lois said...

Hi Mrs. Carol
Our son Paul, daughter in-love Myla, 2 granddaughters Mahala and Kalia and Ethan (our grandson who will be turning one in China) are living in Masterland. When we spoke with our son last night he had met you while he was out exploring with his three children. I was so excited he passed on your blog hoping this would be a really good thing for someone very interested in this huge transition for our kids in a new and far away land. I miss them but your blog with your insights and sharings will be read with great interest. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Mrs./Grandma/Lois/Mom/Mom in-law.

Becca said...

I really loved this post, Su Yong Lin...because I love names and naming stories too, but also because it conveys your sense of adventure and your philosophy about this whole experience.

Great reading for my saturday morning coffee!

BTW, what a nice comment from grandma Lois...isn't it great that your words can help her as she misses her family??


Anonymous said...

hyWonderful story!!! And all the info about names. Wow!! Just typing all of the spelling would be a challenge. Interested in how you learn to pronounce the Chinese words. What an adventure you are having and how wonderful that you have embraced the culture and the people.
It was great to see you and Gordon over the holidays. We head back to AZ next week, but it's been a fun time in MI.
Thanks for sharing your new life. Hugs, Barb Gibbons