Say My Name

I have a policy of calling my students by their last names, usually with the titles “señor/señorita” and “monsieur/mademoiselle.”   The reason I tell them is because it’s culturally appropriate; students in French and Spanish speaking countries are addressed by their last names.  The Frenchies are fine with this, but the Spanish students sometimes ask about using fakey Spanish names… and I always say no.  I don’t mind if they do it in their other classes, but I personally find it odd that American kids want to assume a false ethnic identity, as if…

…Maybe I should stop there.  Anyway, the point is I address them by their real last names, and I don’t use the fakey names.  I actually dig the last name protocol; I find myself doing it in English as well.

Interestingly enough, I’ve often introduced myself in target-language names, since the equivalents of John Patrick sound great in my other languages; Gian Patrizio in Italian, Jean-Patrique in French, and Juan Patricio in Spanish.  Speakers of those languages are used to double names.  Sometimes Spanish speakers will address me as “Patricio” for short,  which I don’t mind (just like some Filipinos call me “Patrick”).

Anyway, it doesn’t matter how I introduce myself;  people always hear someone calling me “JP” and that’s the one that sticks in French and Spanish.

Actually, the issue of names in trans-linguistic situations is pretty interesting; here’s the behavior I’ve observed:

  • When speaking English, we always try to pronounce names with the pronunciation of the language of origin.  Anglicizing or gringuifying a foreign name sounds uneducated to us.
  • When speaking Spanish, we  tropicalize English names freely, but not French ones; we’d perceive tropicalized French names as uneducated.
  • When speaking French, we frenchify all names, English or Spanish.

So notice that French names are always pronounced the French way in both English in Spanish. I have a good friend who speaks Spanish and French; when we’re speaking Spanish and one of us has to pronounce her husband’s name “Jean-Philippe,” it throws both of us off track, because we HAVE to use French pronunciation.  It’s often easier to continue at least the rest of the sentence in French before switching back to Spanish; if not, there’s invariably an awkward moment of hesitation and discomfort before we can  resume in Spanish.  It’s like we’ve been derailed.

Anyway, the name “JP” doesn’t have that problem; it gets tropicalized and frenchified easily.

Which brings us to Mandarin.

I have a great name in Chinese:  万吉平 Wàn Jípíng.  I explained how I got the name in this post.  It’s great for me because it’s easy to write, and besides that, 吉平 sounds close to “JP.”  Chinese people like it because it’s very auspicious; is 10,000 but can mean something like ‘multitude.’   is ‘luck,’ and connotes something equal, level, or even.  So when taken all together, 万吉平 is something like “Everything is lucky and balanced.”  Chinese people actually congratulate me heartily when I tell them this name.

Also, it seemed to be culturally appropriate (at least in Hangzhou) for us to use our Chinese names; there was an expectation that we’d use them.  Also it’s perfectly normal for Chinese people to assume and to use an English name, even among other Chinese people.  So that whole ‘fake ethnic identity’ thing is lost on them.  Don’t be surprised, they’re an ethnic super-majority; it’s only in ethnically diverse environments that the “fake identity’ argument gets any traction.

Anyway, here’s the deal:  no one I knew in Shanghai ever wanted to call me 万吉平; my name in the office for Chinese and non-Chinese alike was “JP,” complete with tones:  zhēi pì.  Which is fine with me.

My last name, however, is a horror show for Chinese people.  I try to tell them that the pinyin is “bi.yan.wei.ba,” which is pretty close… but then they see how “Villanueva” is spelled and their brains explode.

So what happens next year, when I might be teaching Mandarin?  I’m going to have to go by 万老师, because I think that “Villanueva老师” is out of the question.   And how will I address the students?  Guh, I’m going to have to give them fakey fake Chinese names as well.

I’m just going to name them all after my friends.

One thought on “Say My Name

  1. You might be teaching Mandarin? Really?! WOW. Anyway, this reminds me of my Russian-teaching experience. The standard is to address professors by their first name and patronymic. Mine would be “Dwaynovna.” I was advised to change it. It’s too laughable in Russian and just sounds silly. So I chose a new patronymic based on my middle initial, which is “A.” I became “Stefanija Andreevna.”

    Like

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