The Significance of English Names

Fang Jun and Zhang Hongyu work at the William & Mary’s Confucius Institute (WMCI) and teach Chinese language classes at the university. They use their Chinese names with their Chinese colleagues at WMCI and with their students, but also have English names they use outside of the office and classroom. Fang Jun’s is Philip and Zhang Hongyu goes by Renee.

Their adoption of English names is not uncommon. Today, many people from non-English speaking countries adopt an English name to facilitate business and professional transactions in an increasingly globalized world where English is emphasized. Zhang Hongyu, for example, “was supposed to have an English name” as an English major at the University of Science & Technology of China. According to Fang Jun, “When we go to another country with a totally different culture, we need a convenient name to make things smoother.” Hence, he requires all of his W&M language students to have a Chinese name as well.

Zhang Hongyu and Fang Jun both received their English names from others, but were involved in the selection process. Fang Jun received his from his American mentor in the United States, but liked it because it reminded him of poet Philip Larkin. Zhang Hongyu wanted a name related to the character ‘yu’ which means “rain” in Chinese. Her (American) English teacher in China suggested Rainey and Rainee. Hongyu picked the latter, but changed it to Renee, which is more common in the United States.

Fang Jun and Zhang Hongyu selected English names with personal significance, but they express different levels of attachment to and identification with their adopted names. Fang Jun appreciates that Philip is easy for American to memorize and believes that “when you come across someone with the same name, it makes the relationship, to some extent, closer.” Zhang Hongyu, on the other hand, much prefers her Chinese name. She says, “It seems to me that the Chinese name is my only name. The English name is just something adjunct, something useful, something by which people who cannot speak Chinese use to address me. That’s it. If only people could pronounce my Chinese name correctly and remembered it, I would not go by my English name at all.”

Anna Kim ’13 is a Literary and Cultural Studies major and Marketing minor, and is currently a Communications Intern at the Reves Center for International Studies. Her on-campus activities include The Dog Street Journal, the Writing Resources Center, Phi Sigma Pi Honors Fraternity, and Acropolis: Art and Art History magazine. She has spent the past two summers abroad in Germany and South Korea and hopes to continue having international experiences after graduating.

 

 

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