Feb 26, 2008 - OF DRAGONS AND HORSES    No Comments

What’s In A Name?

Filly was given the auspicious task of teaching listening and speaking. She would have many classes and many more students. But even more auspicious a task, daunting even lay before her. It was Dr. KC.

You will name each and every student in your listening and speaking classes with English name.

Filly was excited. She was determined to give each of her students a fitting English name. And then she met her classes….

I was given the task of teaching listening and speaking. The Chinese way. Everything was to be done the Chinese way. Therefore, I would have classes in the newly built language learning lab (they loved to point out this fact to me…built with World Bank Fund Loans.) This learning lab did prove to be a nicer building than others on campus.

The campus itself had a long history and was celebrating it’s 75th anniversary the very year I was there. Among the newer buildings were scattered slightly older buildings that had been ravaged by the cultural revolution…buildings that had been cemented in strange places or stripped of any carvings or artwork. These sad buildings were surrounded even further by smaller one and two story buildings that held an even sadder tale. These buildings had coal heaters and no water. They were often bare and had only recently been wired with barely necessary electricity. But what stood out most on them were the bars on the windows. These buildings were prisoner housing from the Manchurian War. The campus had at that time been a Japanese Internment camp for war prisoners.

Well, listening and speaking the Chinese way consisted of my students listening to a tape program in English. After they had listened to the language lab tapes, I was to repeat the exact program (usually something similar to a reading comprehension exercise consisting of two to three paragraphs). Then I would have to ask them questions and determine who was able to comprehend what they had heard in the non-native language and who was coming behind or a slower learner in comprehension.

And I was to name them. That was a simple task when I believed that there would only be a couple classes such as my History of Britain students. I had 10 of these classes. Each class had upwards of 50 students each. These students were science and technology majors mostly, some art and liberal studies fit in around them, but for the most part, technical students.

500+ baby names!!!?! All at once….TS Elliott and the Naming of the Cats this was not.

I took my assignment seriously. I wanted to apply a name to each student knowing that this would be the English name that carried them to study abroad and beyond. They would keep it forever and use it beyond their China border.

I also didn’t want to repeat if I could help it. I was able to do this by giving some the same names but as derivatives…for instance one Bob, one Robert. And I had to have the meaning of the name for them also as in China, the meaning of the name is just as important as the name.

Well, somewhere there is a Chinese Xavier. A crazy name to use, but it actually fit the young man to whom I gave it. He was an artist. He worked hard to pronounce it correctly. He felt he was special because that was not a common English name. And that is all the thanks I could have asked for in this situation.

Filly presented each one of them with a name. All 500+ of them.

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