30 November 2011

The Naming of Names

This season used to be noteworthy for its harvest of names.  

At the college where I worked as an English teacher, the most colourful haul of names habitually came from China and the international students who redubbed themselves with a western alias to use during their stay in England.  Certainly, it made life easier for those who could not get their tongues around the pronunciation of Xiaoqian or Guo Peng.  Some names evolved during the taxi ride from Heathrow Airport and were duly workaday.  Alan.  KevinSusan.  Stephanie.  Others had a tinge of the exotic.  Gemini and Ice arrived as a matched pair at the college one morning, either side of their beaming agent.

Edison landed from Beijing, his name a fait accompli.  But three weeks into term his friend, Yu, stated that he, too, now wanted a western name. 

He wished to be called Beethoven.

“Why have you chosen this name?” I asked.
“I like,” he answered.
“Do you like his music?”
“Beethoven.  His music.”
“I don’t understand”
“He was a composer.”

“He wrote music.  Do you know his music?”
“If your name is Beethoven, people might make fun of you.”
“Da-da-da-DA.  Da-da-da-DA,” I sang.  The beginning of the Fifth Symphony.  
He looked blank. 
“People may laugh,” I explained.  “Or do you want this name because you saw the movie with the dog called Beethoven?”
He shrugged his shoulders.  He had not seen this film.
“We have no problem with your Chinese name.  It’s very nice.  I’m happy to call you Yu.”
“My name not Yu-Yu, but Yu.”
“Yes, I know.  You are Yu.”
“No.  Not Yua-Yu.  Yu.”

Yet how understandable this urge for reinvention.  I have always fancied the idea of changing and transforming, of shedding a skin.  And oh to walk the unknown paths of a foreign country - with clean slate, nothing to barter, and a soubriquet that would translate as On a wing and a prayer

For SNW.  It is his day.

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